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ESSA’s Title II: Professional Development for Early Educators

By Harriet Dichter | May 13, 2019

Originally published in HighScope’s Journal for Early Educators: The Active Learner.

Why Does Professional Development Matter?

Professional development has great potential to be an asset, and many early educators see the benefit of sharing professional development with those teaching in the K-12 public schools. Fortunately, with the newest version of the federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, there is a greater effort to show how early educators can benefit from professional development.

Title II is the part of the ESSA that focuses on making sure that teachers have the professional development they need to deliver strong learning opportunities for students. There is good news for early educators here. For the first time, ESSA is explicit in showing how states and school districts can include early educators in professional development offerings. 

How Does ESSA Include Early Educators?

With over $2 billion in funding directed at Title II professional development, the opportunity is ripe for states and districts to ensure that all teachers and leaders, including early educators, understand the most current data on how children learn, how to measure that learning, and how to support staff in meeting the needs of all students. Local districts are now allowed to include both early childhood teachers and administrators in their professional development offerings using Title II funds. For teachers, this could mean increasing their knowledge base around how very young children learn or how to work with dual language learners. For principals and leaders, it could mean helping them improve their understanding of child development and early childhood curriculum and teaching practices.

Also allowable under the new funding guidelines are opportunities to align instruction and assessment in early childhood programs to school readiness initiatives and transition to K-12 programs. Joint professional development is a promising and important development in supporting the birth-to-third-grade approach that ESSA calls out as a permissible area for professional development. The focus on both teachers and administrators, as well as public and non-public schools, allows more leverage for working together toward common goals aimed at providing a well-rounded education and to meet K-12 education standards. For example, center directors might participate in professional development with school principals, and infant, preschool, and kindergarten teachers might attend training together to address school readiness issues or the transition to kindergarten.

Integrating developmentally appropriate practices across the curriculum has long been a goal of both early educators and the K-12 community. In many ways, this new approach to Title II has the potential to erase the distinction between the two fields, creating an era of greater cooperation and joint accountability that is clearly in the best interests of young children and their families.

This shift from No Child Left Behind to ESSA has given local entities more discretion to expand early learning opportunities. The impetus of the new regulations was to grant states and localities greater flexibility, but with this flexibility comes new challenges – challenges the US Department of Education believes teachers and administrators will welcome.

Title II permits states, but does not require them, to include early educators in progressional development opportunities. It’s up to early educators, parents, and the public to advocate for states to invest Title II funds in innovative ways and to successfully include early educators.

Originally published by: Dichter, Harriet. “ESSA’s Title II: Professional Development for Early Educators” The Active Learner. 1.1 (2017): 11.

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About Harriet Dichter

Harriet Dichter provides consulting and project services at the local, state, and national levels. She founded and led the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning and was appointed to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and she established the Delaware Office of Early Learning. She is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.