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Ladders to Higher Education Success: Advancing the Higher Education Status of America's Pre-College Early Education Workforce

Our design creates a pathway for pre-college early childhood educators to attain professional certification and one year of college credit.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our program design idea has not changed. The fundamentals of our human-centered design were developed immediately prior to our learning about the Ideo Early Childhood Innovation Prize competition in late December 2017. Our team benefited from Ideo mentorship feedback, particularly the guidance we received on design presentation tools, experience mapping, storyboards, proto-typing, etc. These are very new concepts for our team. We enjoyed learning about all the possibilities within this new-to-us realm. We understand how much more there is to learn! We have done our best with the current timeline to incorporate these ideas. We look forward to further developing our skills as we move forward.

Name or Organization

Labor/Management Workplace Education, University of Massachusetts Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Springfield Technical Community College Healthy Development Initiative: UMASS Psychological and Brain Sciences


On the campuses of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Springfield.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • University

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Our solution taps the unrecognized potential of America’s invisible educators: the under-educated, multicultural, pre-college, state-licensed U.S. early education workforce. First and foremost, our design brings much needed visibility to this vital U.S. workforce. We offer, for the first time in the nation, a way for pre-college early childhood educators to take credited college courses that are contextualized for adult literacy, & computer competence, as the "means" to college entrance exam placement, degree matriculation, professional certification and 30 credits toward an Associate degree.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our design reflects our commitment to make a positive impact in the work, school & family lives of under-served early childhood educators. This design helps solve a critical problem: a lack of access to college entrance and college degrees. We are deeply committed to bringing and sharing a human (emphatic) approach to our design. We actively engage educators, employers, academic institutions, the community, policy makers, etc. We abide by the principle that all users can benefit from meaningful pathways to academic & professional development. We prioritize enhancing user satisfaction through a plan to advance quality in user access, user applications and user happiness. We use multisensory user experiences intersecting at the workplace, in academia, the community, & with technology. Our long-time observation of the academic & workplace adversity of at-risk early childhood educators has been the keystone for our productive brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing & implementing appropriate and the most impactful solutions to the problems at hand. We uphold the value of empathy as it allows for better understanding of how and why at-risk early childhood educators behave as they do. Our design has been adapted to increase the desirability, usefulness, accessibility, credibility, & value to meet real-life need. The integrative, iterative design uses rigorous analysis, participatory, empathetic & creative approaches to inspire & create the best solution

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

The U.S. is challenged by an inability to keep pace with ever-increasing demands for a high quality early education workforce. A dearth of qualified early educators, combined with a lack of affordable higher education/career pathways for at-risk early childhood educators, undermines the entire U.S. early education system. When the most at-risk state-licensed early childhood educators are educating & caring for the nation's most at-risk children, this design is potentially game-changing.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Our plan is to implement and evaluate (through research) a 2-year workforce development/higher education strategy to move pre-college, at-risk, state-licensed, early childhood educators to A.S. degree matriculation status. In addition, educators earn professional certification + one year of college credit toward an A.S. degree in early education. Our design incorporate ideas from a previous successful early childhood educator 5-year pilot (2010-2015) in which we educated and trained 120 under-prepared state-licensed early childhood educators in Western Massachusetts. In this pilot we emphasized individual early childhood educator workplace competencies, development of their adult literacy/ESOL skills and computer learning. The above areas were contextualized in course offerings such as Child Development Associate Credential coursework, QRIS trainings, and 100 level early education college courses. Building upon the success of this pilot, our new design offers a more depth platform that will move pre-college early childhood educators to Associate's degree matriculation status, where they will also earn professional certification and and one year of college credit. Our new design incorporates our past focus on the pre- and post- assessment of all educator's adult literacy/ English language skills, computer skills, and workplace competencies. The new design includes more credited academic courses. These courses are intentionally paired with requisite adult literacy/ESOL developmental coursework. We have also put additional focus on the development of the early educator childhood educator's social emotional skills and executive functioning for more effective teaching practice. Below we describe the reasoning behind our design. We hope it will help to draw a better picture of our dedication to work that will amend current adversities seen in the pre-college early childhood educator workforce. Reason #1: We want to bring forward the reality of the existing correlations between sub-par wages paid in early education and care and early childhood educator risk for low adult literacy competence. Why, when states mandate that all public-school teachers demonstrate adult literacy competence through testing before teacher-hire and teacher-licensure, states have no requirment that state licensed early childhood educators must demonstrate these same skills to meet hiring or licensure requirements? Recognition that high school diploma or GED does not ensure literacy competence is critical. Why are early education employers forced, under government oversight, to employ low-literacy, under-performing, under-prepared, highly stressed early childhood educators who leave the early education field at an annual rate of 30%? How and why does an under-prepared early education workforce stymie states’ ability to meet quality rating information standards (QRIS)? Why aren’t states considering options to prepare those in the early education workforce who need adult basic education and ESOL support? Reason #2: We want to make visible the existing correlations between word gap outcomes in low-income, disadvantaged young children and word gap outcomes in low-income. under-educated early childhood educators. If the U.S. is serious about closing the word gap for disadvantaged low-income young children, states must do the same for under-served early childhood educators. Prioritization of basic education/ESOL coursework is a critical first step to addressing the needs of low literacy early childhood educators. Reason #3: We want to bring attention to correlations between healthy social emotional development outcomes in young children and the same outcomes in early childhood educators. The research is clear. Early childhood educators play a pivotal role in young children’s social emotional development in early education settings. Targeting and rigorously supporting core early childhood educator social emotional learning competence is an essential, though almost always ignored, aspect of early education teacher preparation. At present, states and employers are doing very little to cultivate healthy social-emotional competence in the workforce and connecting that to successful classroom practice. Early childhood educators, who can manage their feelings and behaviors, form mutually positive relationships with others and make responsible decisions, are better prepared to teach healthy social emotional learning skills to young children. These same skills help educators to manage their mental health in healthy and productive ways, at work, at school, and in their lives.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

 America’s under-served early education workforce benefit when given access to affordable, effective career & higher education pathways to meet their academic and employment needs. And, educators benefit when they advance adult literacy skills/ESOL, computer skills & workplace competencies; as an integrated part of a larger professional development framework.  The children in early education care benefit from high quality instruction provided by optimally trained educators.  Early education employers benefit when the early education workforce is stable, competent and productive.  States benefit when more early childhood educators can meet QRIS and other credentialing standards.  Community Colleges benefit economically when more students are eligible to apply, attend and complete degree programs.  Families & communities derive a variety of social and economic benefits from all the above.  The early education field benefits by maintaining and growing a strong and effective multi-cultural and multi-lingual early education workforce.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Our design: (1) will create increased visibility for a heretofore invisible, but vital, U.S. workforce. (2) will demonstrate, through practice, that it is possible to create higher education platforms to successfully and efficiently move under-supported, pre-college early childhood educators into and through college degree programs. (3) will show the benefits of empathy as a core value of our program design. (4) will demonstrate, through practice, the importance of prioritizing and bringing attention to a multicultural, multi-lingual approach to early education workforce development. (5) will specifically demonstrate "how to" advance pre-college early childhood educator adult literacy skills, computer skills, STEAM, and social emotional competence (6) will encourage early education leaders to think (outside the box) about how to develop and educate under-served, under-educated, early childhood educators. 7) will create buy-in from early education employers and 8) will inspire and engage new conversations among providers, policy makers, parents, and funders at the local, state and national level.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The Washington Post article (link noted at end of paragraph) describes the complex mirroring that happens every day in America, between at-risk, low-income, young children in early education settings and the low-income, under-served, under-educated, early childhood educators who have been tasked with educating and caring for them. Dr. Elizabeth A. Gilbert examines how and why this "mirroring of disadvantage" impacts the economic, academic, social, physical, and emotional standing of both young children and their caregivers. In the Washington Post piece (noted at end of this paragraph) Dr. Gilbert examines the systemic and parallel "word gap" patterning that occurs in early education settings in America, between low-income young children and America's under-prepared early education workforce. Here, Dr. Gilbert discusses outcomes she saw in a 5-year pilot/study she developed to help address this concerning phenomenon. She describes how and why the shared young child/early childhood educator risk for low literacy competence needs greater attention.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our design's unique focus on the adult literacy competence, computer skills, and executive functioning of pre-college early childhood educators, as the foundation for their academic and professional success, is groundbreaking. The addition of cohort mentors is inventive and unprecedented. UMass Amherst is first academic institution in the nation to draw attention to the pivotal relationship between low adult literacy competence (or lack of English language proficiency) and a glaring lack of U.S. early education college degree attainment. Currently close to 60% of America's early education workforce has no college degree. This, despite billions of tax payer dollars spent annually on states' early childhood education professional development systems, scholarship funding, etc. Plans to co-design, implement, and evaluate a higher education model that encourages early childhood educator participation is disruptively innovative. This invisible U.S. workforce has never been asked to engage or participate in platforms that are geared to increase their academic and or career futures. These professional development decisions are made "for them" by state and national policy makers. Understanding that college readiness skills are key to ensuring that pre-college, early childhood educators have the competencies they need to place on college entrance exams and matriculate into degree programs, is unprecedented. That this model can readily be replicated in other state and national early education professional development systems is unprecedented as well. Recognition of the fact that prohibitive academic and financial costs prevent millions in the pre-college early education workforce from entering college is important. This is happening despite billions of tax payer dollars being spent annually on mandatory professional development protocols that are often ineffective, at best. To date, ours is the only model that utilizes adult literacy/English language proficiency and executive social emotional function assessments as the "starting point" for pre-college early childhood educators to earn academic credit toward a degree, without first having to take years of uncredited developmental coursework in reading, writing, math and computer basics. Ours is the only model in the nation where non-native English speakers can take credited early childhood education courses (in their native language) that are simultaneously paired with requisite adult education/ESOL course work. This design provides a more expeditious and practical way for limited English speakers (ELP) to increase English language proficiency while working toward a degree that must be done in English. Normally, ELP educators must take years of developmental coursework prior to being able to take English language courses in early education. Our model is innovative in that all courses are developed and taught by a team of both academic instructors and adult education professionals. Both professors and adult educators work together in a feedback loop to ensure optimal student outcomes in both academic and adult literacy areas. Our curriculum design is innovative because it is entirely worker centered. Too often we put the cart before the horse and expect under-educated early childhood educators to perform at levels that not possible for them. We cannot expect an early childhood educator at-risk for functional illiteracy to appropriately prepare a young child for optimal early literacy skills. We cannot expect an early childhood who is not supported in social emotional health in life or at the workforce, to teach children optimal social emotional growth and development skills. The same is true for STEAM skills. An early childhood educator unfamiliar with STEAM education cannot appropriately teach creative, impactful STEAM education to young children.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Our model is designed to be replicated in any state that seeks to effectively increase the professional competencies of pre-college early childhood educators. This design can be replicated to develop other under-educated, at-risk, invisible U.S. workforce constituencies, i.e. paraprofessionals in public schools, certified nursing assistants, personal care attendants, tech workers, etc.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

With funding and support from the Massachusetts Commonwealth Corporation’s Learn at Work Initiative (2010-2015), LMWE developed and implemented a highly successful early education/workforce development pilot. The goal of the Learn at Work early education workforce development pilot was to increase pre-college early childhood educator adult literacy competence, develop highly skillful workplace competencies, aid early childcare educators to earn professional credentialing and improve their state teacher licensure standing. All pilot participants were pre-and post-tested for adult literacy competence, computer competence, and other work-related skills. Participants took contextualized Child Development Associate (CDA) courses, MA state (QRIS) training courses, college placement exam preparation courses, and credited 100 level college courses in early education. The results of the pilot are noted below. Participant Entry Assessment Results • 30% scored at 4th, 5th and 6th-grade equivalence on reading, writing and math exams. • Most had minimal computer experience. • 50% did not have an e-mail address and/or had never used email. • 50% did not know how to do internet searches or how to use Microsoft Office or Google applications. • Most did not know how to apply for current state college scholarship funding. • Most did not understand why the state was mandating licensed early childhood educators to complete an annual individual professional development plan. • Most began the pilot with minimal skills in the field of early education and care. • Many participants did not understand why their low-literacy competence and/or a lack of interest in early education was important. What mattered most to them was that they were getting paid to do the job at hand and would earn more if they acquired lead teacher status. Learn at Work Pilot Outcomes • Most increased both adult literacy competence and industry-related workplace competencies. • Most went from teacher to lead-teacher state-licensure. • More than 50% earned the national Child Development Associate Credential • More than 50% earned college credits for 100 level college courses in early childhood education. • 15 of 15 students, successfully completed an on-line, (in person) semester-long college course. This was the first time any of the 15 took a took an online course. • 95% of users increased computer competence, i.e. learned to create and use email, to do internet searches, and to use Microsoft Office and Google applications. • A majority received job promotions and salary increases tied to their lead teacher licensure status. • Employers reported less turnover, better productivity and higher teacher quality in staff taking the pilot. • Employers were better able to meet requisite employer state Quality Rating and Information System (QRIS) & National Association Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) standards due to pilot training and higher credentialing.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We are confident that our business model will see market success. Our design was comprehensively developed over time, and many pieces were pre-tested successfully in a 5-year pilot program. This more comprehensive design makes it easier for users to access and advance the tools they need to meet state and federal certification and improve critical skills in early literacy, social emotional learning, and STEAM. The model is important because it is designed to ensure that all users are empowered throughout. The design is effective because it allows users to achieve simultaneous success in academic and professional settings.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

This design and our design process has been fully grounded in our commitment to bring and share a humanistic (emphatic) approach to all we work with, most especially the early childhood educators themselves. Our design addresses a critical problem for millions of U.S. pre-college early childhood educators: the lack of effective and practical pathways to move them into and through Associate’s Degree programs. Our design actively engages early childhood educators, early education employers, academic institutions, the community, local, state and federal policy makers, and other partners, throughout. Our design is rooted in the principle that all users (in this case early childhood educators) benefit when offered meaningful and useful pathways to professional and academic success. Our design prioritizes enhancement of user satisfaction through a specially crafted career/higher education pathway that enhances user access, user program utilization, and user ability to find joy in all parts of the design. Our design incorporates a range of user multisensory experiences intersecting at the workplace, in the academic environment, in the community, and with technology. Our design team is deeply committed to making a positive impact on the under-served early childhood educator's academic and workplace experiences. Members of our team have spent years observing the academic and workplace adversity of many under-prepared early childhood educators. The knowledge gained from our long-term observation was the keystone to our ability to brainstorm, conceptualize, develop and implement appropriate solutions to the problems at hand. Our team prioritizes and upholds the value of empathy. Empathy is the foundational skill from which we have come to better understand how and why under-served early childhood educators behave as they do. Our design prioritizes the desirability, usefulness, accessibility, credibility, and value of a platform that meets the needs of the under-served early education workforce. Our platform has been constructed from a long-term commitment to seek, and find the most effective, innovative solutions to educate under-educated early childhood educators. Our platform reflects our commitment to ensuring that we comprehensively measure and evaluate our plan. This integrative design combines rigorous analysis, with participatory, empathetic and creative approaches to both inspire and create the best solutions. Finally, our platform is iterative in nature as it incorporates "continuous learning" as a critical part of how our team, and the early education workforce will be able to take advantage of continuous problem solving, for ever-better solution making.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

The University of Massachusetts Labor/Management Workplace Education Program is committed to adapting, designing and implementing highly effective, innovative, and efficient approaches to workforce development. Our now 30-year educational partnership has provided high quality workplace educational opportunities to a diversity of under-served and other workforces, at the local, state and national levels. Whether in research, policy, or practice, LMWE is committed to working to ensure optimal outcomes in higher learning, enhanced job performance, optimal job satisfaction, career advancement, and community engagement. Our expertise includes a range of competency-based workforce development models as well as higher education and career pathways geared to both higher end and under-served workforce constituencies. We are deeply dedicated to work that is transparent, inclusive, collaborative and collegial. Our mutually-respectful academic and community-based relationships are the foundation for our success. We believe that whether student or teacher, early childhood educator or director, laborer or manager, legislator or policy maker, we all have something to learn from one another. The Early Education Workforce Project at LMWE has garnered state and national recognition (please see attached quotes) for our innovative early education workforce development models. Our work is unique due to its specific focus on the professional development and higher education needs of pre-college early childhood educators. Having conducted a 5 year field-test as part of an early education workforce pilot, LMWE is well positioned, and excited, to develop, implement and evaluate a more advanced model to better serve this vital American workforce.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

LMWE will partner with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (specializing in research on emotions related to learning, decision-making, creativity, well-being, performance, and relationship building, in children, teachers, staff, parents), Springfield Technical Community College Early Childhood Education Department (specializing in academic early education coursework & advising/tutoring) & the STC Adult Literacy Center (specializing in adult literacy/ESOL classes, computer training/tutoring, & lab space), and the UMASS's Brain & Psychology Department's Healthy Development Initiative.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Tools to access and evaluate big data Help with building entrepreneurial motivation for innovation in the early childhood field. We want to create something that brings caregivers, supervisors, educators, parents and policymakers all to the table with a spirt of innovating while considering ways to pay for this important platform without relying on traditional government and private donor largesse (both of which come and go). Expertise in technology and social media/public relations Expertise in how to reach policy makers, philanthropists, legislators, employers, unions, and the public to educate them about the critical issues at hand

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Mentorship in Social/Media Technology Help to build a relationship with key members of Ideo, to ensure that we can best utilize Ideo's resources and collaborative networks for our program’s success. Mentorship in innovation

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

University of Massachusetts/Amherst and Springfield Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence http://ei.yale. Springfield Technical Community College

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped. “Elizabeth Gilbert shines a light on a problem no one wants to acknowledge: the low skills of many who care for our youngest children” Libby Doggett, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Department of Education, Office of Early Learning

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We had one Ideo mentor. He was timely, engaged, supportive, positive, and provided us with concrete direction, especially with regard to using Ideo’s design ideas. Our second mentor was located in a international time zone that was 13 hours ahead of us so we were challenged to find a time that would work.

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our design platform was well conceived prior to our application. Our design idea, as presented, has not changed. We did learn from technological tools offered that helped to improve our visual presentation. Particularly helpful were the prototype concepts, i.e. using Experience Mapping and Storyboards.

Name or Organization

Labor Management Workplace Education

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Ours is a completely new ways of engaging our end users, precollege, low literacy state licensed early childhood educators. We are first in the nation to

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Our design reflects our commitment to make a positive impact in the work, school & family lives of under-served early childhood educators. It helps solve a critical problem facing this workforce: a lack of access to college degrees. We are deeply committed to bringing and sharing a human (emphatic) approach to our design. We actively engage educators, employers, academic institutions, the community, policy makers, etc. We abide by the principle that all users can benefit from meaningful pathways to academic & professional development. We prioritize enhancing user satisfaction through a plan to advance quality in user access, user applications and user ability to find joy in all. We use multisensory user experiences intersecting at the workplace, in academia, the community, & with technology. Our long-time observation of the academic & workplace adversity of at-risk early childhood educators has been the keystone for our productive brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing and implementing appropriate and impactful solutions to the problems at hand. We uphold the value of empathy as it allows for better understanding of how and why at-risk early childhood educators behave as they do. Our design has been adapted to increase the desirability, usefulness, accessibility, credibility, & value to meet real-life need. Our integrative, iterative design uses rigorous analysis, participatory, empathetic & creative approaches to inspire & create the best solutions.

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

This video from the Yale Center for Social Emotional Learning helps to explain what our focus will be on teaching early childhood educators, SEL skills.


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