The Role of Diversity in Creating the Early Childhood Workforce Solution

by Pedro Méndez, Community Engagement Coordinator

According to the Census Bureau by the year 2044 it’s estimated that about half of the population in the United States will belong to a minority group (2015). As the U.S. changes, it’s important for organizations and companies to reflect these changes so they are better able to provide improved services to the community. This starts with thorough conversations around diversity and inclusion. Diversity can mean the differences in groups related to ethnicity, class, age, gender, sexuality, ability, religion and nationality. This can be further reflected in language, practices and traditions (Adams & Bell, 2016). In Denver alone, we have a population of about 31.4% Latinos, 9.0 African Americans, and 3.6 Asians (2014 Health of Denver Report). We are a diverse city and our programs should reflect this.

For those of us working in education this not only means having a diverse student population but a diverse teaching staff that reflects our students. Studies suggest that students benefit when they are paired with and exposed to teachers that represent them demographically (Egalite & Kisida, 2018). Studies have found that children paired with teachers of color have fewer absences, suspensions, and have higher college aspirations (Holt & Gershenson, 2015; Eagalite & Kisida, 2018). However, this is not the case in our classrooms. Across the country, nearly 80% of the teaching staff is white (Taie & Goldring, 2017). Students are not seeing themselves reflected in the teaching staff they interact with. Having a diverse leadership team that reflects the students is important because it allows us to engage them in diverse ways.

Several programs have attempted bringing teachers of diverse backgrounds into the field, such as the Ford Foundation’s Teacher Fellow Program, which trains the next generation of teachers. Despite these efforts, the gap persists – in part due to the increase of the number of students of color and the fact that few minority students enter college and complete a degree (Ingersoll, May & Collins, 2017). We must also consider a teacher of color’s willingness to remain in the field. Minority teachers are more likely to be employed in schools serving high poverty, high minority and urban schools which can lead to more turnover due to the same schools being less desirable places to work (Ingersoll, May & Collins, 2017). In addition, teachers who have less comprehensive teacher preparation are two to three times more likely to leave a teaching position (Thomas-Carver, 2018). That’s why it is important that we train our teacher workforce so that they feel better prepared and remain in the classroom, increasing our diversity and inclusion.

The lack of support, high cost, and teacher licensure exams have been identified as barriers to enrollment and completion of teacher preparation programs (Thomas-Carver, 2018). Denver’s Early Childhood Workforce Initiative looks to tackle these issues while recruiting a diverse population of educators to serve our youngest learners. The program takes a neighborhood-focused approach and will seek to increase and serve the early childhood teaching professionals in licensed, high quality early childhood programs serving children 0-5, and will address the issues mentioned previously. This program will create a new workforce recruitment and training pipeline for the early childhood field in Denver.

The goal is to recruit and facilitate access to the field and ultimately, create a clear career pathway for participants. Participants will be paired with high-quality early childhood programs to receive on-the-job training as they participate in early childhood courses at a college level. Participants will receive practicum or field work college credit for their on-the-job training time. They will also be able to meet with career pathways navigators here at Denver’s Early Childhood Council to build a career plan and pursue higher goals.

As leadership we must understand that diversity will bring different perspectives and approaches and we must be ready to value variety and insights (Thomas & Ely, 1996). These diverse views have demonstrated to increase sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits (Herring 2009). To us, this means having better opportunities to work and reach a broader population that we might not be able to otherwise. This is important if we are to reach our youngest learners, a group that grows more and more diverse each day.

For more information about getting involved in the Denver’s Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, contact me at pedro@denverearlychildhood.org or (720) 644-2571.


Editor’s note: Denver’s Early Childhood Workforce Initiative is made possible through a grant awarded in Spring 2018, overseen and funded by Early Milestones Colorado, the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Human Services. Philanthropic partners include Gary Community Investments and Buell Foundation. Our info page is currently in development. For now, you can learn more about the project on our News page, and similar projects/grantees in Colorado at earlymilestones.org/transforming-ec-workforce/.

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