A new $2.9 million grant from the state Department of Education will support a University of Maryland project to put more highly qualified early childhood educators from diverse backgrounds into the communities where they’re most needed.
UMD’s Center for Early Childhood Education and Intervention (CECEI) will establish the Maryland Early EdCorp, a 15-month project to recruit, train, mentor and support future child care teachers to serve children ages 3 to 5, especially those from groups with higher levels of need.
Only about half of young children in Maryland attend early childhood education programs, and just 40% of new kindergarteners are deemed ready for school. Kindergarten readiness is even lower among children of color, those with disabilities, multilingual English learners and children living in poverty, according to 2022 data from Ready at Five, a program of the nonprofit coalition Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
Lack of access to high-quality child care and highly qualified early childhood teachers is not a new issue, but since the COVID-19 pandemic began, child care centers nationwide have faced unprecedented teacher shortages. Many have been forced to close, leaving children without access to care and education at a key stage in their brain development.
“Young children are rapidly developing in every way imaginable,” said Christy Tirrell-Corbin, a clinical professor in the College of Education and executive director of the CECEI, who will direct the Maryland Early EdCorp. “It is critically important that they develop the skills and knowledge necessary for kindergarten readiness. In reality, much of the foundation for life-long learning happens in the first five years.”
The project will address teacher shortages in “child care deserts” where centers and staff are in short supply in geographic clusters around the state, from the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland to northern and western regions. Four cohorts of 35 to 37 non-degree-seeking early childhood teacher candidates, many of them recent high school graduates or parents of young children, will participate. The CECEI will emphasize recruiting new teachers from underrepresented groups in these same communities.
“Children need to see themselves represented in those who teach them. Families need to have access to teachers who understand their strengths, resources, challenges and needs,” said Tirrell-Corbin, who also directs the college’s Early Childhood General/Special Education teacher certification program.
The Maryland Early EdCorp project will support future child care teachers as they work toward their Child Development Associate credential, providing 135 hours of training and helping the candidates assemble portfolios and prepare for their required exam and observations. In addition, project staff will place the candidates in paid apprenticeships at high-quality child care centers that care for underserved populations, including children who have disabilities, are multilingual English learners, experience homelessness, live in poverty or participate in the child protective services system. Teachers currently working at these centers will receive training to serve as mentor coaches for the apprentices.
After they complete their apprenticeships, the candidates will continue to receive support from the Maryland Early EdCorp through career counseling and access to a community of practice. This long-term plan is intended to retain teachers in the early childhood field and help them advance in their careers over time. Retention is crucial; children need stability, and high rates of teacher turnover can be detrimental to children’s well-being, Tirrell-Corbin said.
Tirrell-Cobin and Amanda Schwartz, the project’s associate director, plan to continue to seek funding to expand the program and make it available to additional candidates after the grant period ends.
The grant that establishes the Maryland Early EdCorp is one of 22 Maryland Rebuilds awards totaling more than $23 million that respond to the pandemic’s impact by strengthening and expanding early childhood education, the first pillar of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future approved by the General Assembly in 2021. The Blueprint aims to transform Maryland’s education systems at the prekindergarten through post-secondary levels through policy changes, increased funding and new programs and approaches focused on equity.
College of Education faculty have helped shape the Blueprint through their work on its Accountability and Implementation Board and several workgroups and committees. Tirrell-Corbin supported the Blueprint’s early childhood pillar by working on the Early Childhood Research Advisory Committee and the State Interagency Coordinating Council.