The state of Washington has the nation’s first cabinet-level early learning agency, the Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL).
According to Thrive Washington, a group dedicated to advancing high-quality early learning throughout the state, Washington was chosen to be the first “Innovation State” in Harvard’s Frontiers of Innovation initiative, committing to using science across all state systems to improve outcomes for vulnerable children.
Thrive Washington states: “In a few short years, Washington state has emerged as a national — and international — leader in early learning.” This dedication to helping every child in Washington state be ready to succeed in school and life helps encourage schools, communities, parents and teachers to focus on improving the opportunities for children in early childhood.
The State of Preschool in Washington
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reports that between 2002 and 2017, the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool programs in Washington grew from 6 percent to 8 percent, with another 7 percent in Head Start. The number of 3-year-olds enrolled increased to 5 percent in pre-K and 5 percent in Head Start.
In addition, 3 percent of 3-year-olds and 4 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in special education programs. The amount Washington spends per student has increased from $6,619 in 2002 to $8,239 in 2017, the fourth-highest amount among the 50 states and District of Columbia.
The Growing Need for Low-Income Preschools
According to the Department of Early Learning, nearly $10 million in state funding is earmarked for 1,000 more spots in the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) for preschoolers, but that’s not enough to meet the growing demand, and waiting lists are getting longer. The Everett Herald reports that the state received more than 2,100 requests for new spots and the DEL’s expansion plan “aims to provide enough space for all eligible children by 2022.”
In November, a caseload forecast found that 21,625 children were eligible for this program but were not served either by the ECEAP or by Head Start, the federal equivalent. The report said that by 2022-23, more than 7,000 slots will need to be added to the 13,491 available in 2018-19 to serve all of the children who are likely to participate.
The Importance of Early Childhood Education
According to First Things First, “From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. And early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life — positive or negative — helps shape how their brain develops.”
The National Education Association has published research studies that show the importance of early childhood education to success in school and later in life.
These studies arrived at a number of conclusions, including the following:
- Investing in quality pre-kindergarten programs generates billions of dollars in economic and other benefits for the federal and state governments.
- Pre-K programs result in greater improvements in academic development.
- Preschool programs help prepare kids for school.
- Early childhood education has long-term benefits.
One study that followed students from pre-K to age 24 correlated participation in pre-K programs with lower crime rates. Such studies validate the demand for high-quality preschool programs by proving the benefits of early education.
The Opportunity for Early Childhood Experts
The growing need for preschools in Washington presents an opportunity for educators with a specialization in early childhood education. Current state and national early childhood workforce trends show that expanding state public preschool programs, reducing student-teacher ratios, and increasing focus on home-visiting outcomes all boost the effectiveness of early childhood education.
Eastern Washington University’s Online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education
EWU’s online M.Ed. program is aligned with the standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and covers topics from the science of early childhood development to the creation of positive learning environments, family engagement, early childhood leadership, educational research and more.
Completing this program makes those who already hold a teaching certificate eligible for an added endorsement in early childhood education (grades P-3). Those without a teaching certificate can enhance their credentials to serve in a leadership role in a public agency such as Head Start, or in a private preschool or child care center.
There is also a growing demand for other professionals in the early childhood field such as Early Childhood Program Specialist or Coach for state Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), and the M.Ed. with ECE emphasis helps meet the requirements for those career paths.
The M.Ed. program consists of 25 credit hours of common core courses, including an internship, and 24 credit hours of specialization courses (total 49 credit hours) and can be completed in as few as 12 months.
Learn more about the EWU online M.Ed. program in Early Childhood Education.