By Cliff Foster
Metro State’s Early Childhood Education Program (ECE) will be expanded and deepened now that Colorado has opened the door for a four-year bachelor’s degree in a field that is increasingly seen as essential to a young student’s future achievement.
Planning is under way on a degree program following the Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s decision this month to reverse a 1986 ruling prohibiting colleges and universities in the state from granting bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education. That ruling reflected the belief at the time that education degrees lacked rigor, as one report put it.
But much has changed over the last 26 years.
“This is an amazing time to be in early childhood because on a national level and at the state level, policymakers recognize…that there is a direct relationship between what goes on in the lives of very young children and their later success in school,” says Malinda Jones, assistant professor of ECE.
The commission said its decision does not in itself create an early childhood degree; rather it presents “a pathway for institutions to begin this work.” And leading the way at Metro State is Jones, with strong backing from Cynthia Lindquist, chair of special education, early childhood education, reading and educational technology and assistant professor of special education.
Currently students can minor in ECE or obtain a license to teach pre-kindergarten through third grade in Colorado public schools. They must select one of three approved majors, though Human Development is highly recommended because its curriculum provides a strong foundation in child development. Some ECE courses are included in its requirements and electives.
For Metro State, the CCHE ruling means it can begin to re-examine the ECE curriculum, separating content that has been combined due to credit constrictions and adding field practicums and new classes to better prepare teachers for the entire developmental range of birth to age 8. Jones says. Ideally, an ECE degree program could include minors in specialized disciplines such as special education, linguistically diverse and literacy, filling growing classroom needs and improving students’ education and job prospects.
The ruling also benefits students transferring from community colleges: In a degree program, Metro State canoffer lower-division coursework thatalignsdirectly with the courseworkrequiredforthe associate’s degree in early childhood.
“This major is really a gift,” Jones says. “It’s time for our program to be revaluated in order to best meet the needs of current teachers and the diversity of students that we have coming to us.”
But that reevaluation won’t be easy or quick. The degree program must be approved by the curriculum committees of the School of Professional Studies and the institution, and be voted on by the Faculty Senate. Then the package goes to the state. Beyond all that, new faculty will have to be recruited and hired. So, the best case, Jones says, is for a fall 2013 launch of the ECE degree.
As she builds a new curriculum, Jones is soliciting feedback from the early childhood community, state departments and community colleges on the ingredients to include in the Metro State ECE degree. It’s all part of an ambitious goal: to create what Jones called “the absolute best program that will meet the needs of students and teachers.”
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