Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
As the National Association for the Education of Young Children, two strategic policy priorities NAEYC faces are ensuring access to “high quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood education” and, relatedly, working to ensure the practitioners gain proper recognition – and support – as professionals. NAEYC CEO Rhian Allvin explains how the group will do it.
Chris Riback: Rhian, welcome to the studio.
Rhian Allvin: Thank you so much.
Chris Riback: Congratulations on the event. More than 9,000 people here, and everything has worked flawlessly. I guess that’s got to really compliment management on that, don’t you think?
Rhian Allvin: It has absolutely nothing to do with me. We have a brilliant team, and it’s so thrilling for us to have so many people here.
Chris Riback: So despite your efforts?
Rhian Allvin: Despite me, it’s all gone well.
Chris Riback: The event worked well. Okay. We’re glad we got this nailed down. So beyond the event, obviously you are responsible for guiding the organization’s direction and their strategic direction. That can’t be simple with an organization this size. But then I read the NAEYC mission, which states in part: NAEYC promotes high quality early learning for all children, birth through eight, by connecting practice, policy, and research. That just about describes your whole career, doesn’t it?
Rhian Allvin: It does. It does. And it’s thrilling. It’s so humbling to me to have the opportunity to be the CEO at NAEYC and to work on behalf of early childhood educators across the country, who are truly… What they do matters to every other economic engine in our country. And so to have the opportunity to work on their behalf is such an honor for me.
Chris Riback: And you’re not new to this. You didn’t fall into the being CEO of an early education organization just by chance.
Rhian Allvin: No. I started out in Arizona and worked with… I was in philanthropy for a while and worked with a number of donors in Arizona to put an initiative on the ballot to create a-
Chris Riback: First Things First.
Rhian Allvin: … system of early childhood education in Arizona. So I come to NAEYC having been the CEO at First Things First.
Chris Riback: Tell me about First Things First.
Rhian Allvin: I was at the Community Foundation actually when we conceptualized First Things First, but had some mentors of mine, and donors, and friends say, “We’ve spent our whole life trying to make things better for young kids in Arizona, and we’ve gone about it every way, and it’s just not paying off. What if we went to the citizens, went to the people and said, ‘How about we create a new revenue stream for a system of early childhood education in Arizona?'” So we crafted a ballot initiative and-
Chris Riback: Took it to the vote.
Rhian Allvin: … took it to the voters, who voted in favor of a new tax and voted to tax themselves, which is really important, to create a new revenue stream to create a system of early childhood education in Arizona.
Chris Riback: Yes, I think there’s a lesson there.
Rhian Allvin: Absolutely.
Chris Riback: Going back to NAEYC, the strategic direction that you are helping lead and perhaps even responsible for, describe for me the NAEYC strategic priorities. What are they and how they evolved?
Rhian Allvin: We have two forward facing policy strategic priorities. One is that every single child in this country has access to high quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood education, and that is birth through age eight. And so there are many things that hang under that, but it is making sure that we have the systems and structures in place, that parents have real choices, that all kids have equal access to early learning opportunities. And then the second big area of work that is policy facing is to work on the profession. And we have expended a lot of political capital and energy in organizing a professional field of practice for early childhood educators, because here we’ve got this extraordinary neuroscience about what high quality early childhood education means-
Chris Riback: Science of learning and development?
Rhian Allvin: Absolutely, and it is very clear. I mean you can argue over dosage, you can argue over approach, but you can’t argue the neuroscience. And so you have this extraordinary science, and then you have the conditions that we’ve created, where individuals doing the most important work that we can be doing are earning minimum wage in many instances. You can make more money at Burger King in many instances, and we just have a mismatch in what the science is telling us and what the policies and systems we’ve created are doing.
Chris Riback: We know the impact that the science of learning and development has had on how we think about the structure of learning, from every child having talent to even the physical structure of classrooms. It’s really rewriting the way we think about the act of educating. The professionalism and the professional staff, that also needs a rewriting.
Rhian Allvin: When the National Academies came out with Neurons to Neighborhoods in 2000, that had a catalytic effect on our field. And then in 2015 they released Transforming the Workforce in Early Childhood Education, 700 page document, easy reading. But why it was so important was because it took the science and said, not just the science is important, but the individuals, the practitioners in the classroom who are in these experiences every day, you can’t just pluck somebody off the street and have them have the pedagogical background to be able to get these kinds of returns and the complexity of the connection between language and math, the complexity of the connection between how you think about problem solving and reasoning and, even as we talk about now all the time, the stage we’re setting for embracing equity and embracing classrooms that really are about every child, and every culture, and every family that walks in the door.
Rhian Allvin: That report did a great job of laying the foundation for us as the field to say, “You’re absolutely right. That is the truth.” And so we have to respond to that. And we’re compelled from a policy perspective to say, how do we create a system where we acknowledge that early childhood educators have to have professional preparation to do this work?
Chris Riback: Well, if we’re going to expect excellence on the output side, we better think about the input side as well.
Rhian Allvin: Absolutely, absolutely. And early childhood educators being fully, professionally prepared, and we’re saying at different levels of preparation, will make all the difference in the world. But then we have to create the compensation structures that tie to that. We’ve done a lot of market research and public polling, and this notion that early childhood educators are just passing through or they’re on their way to another career, our research says the exact opposite. People want to go into this profession, they’re compelled by it, but then we dis-incentivize it in so many ways without the right compensation structures, making sure that we’ve got health care, that they have access to retirement benefits. Like we have to be able to create a structure that matches the kind of economic prosperity that early childhood education instigates.
Chris Riback: Well, luckily for you, you’ve left yourself plenty to do in the next year.
Rhian Allvin: That’s right, that’s right.
Chris Riback: So next year in Anaheim?
Rhian Allvin: … put me out of a job. That’s really what we need to do.
Chris Riback: I’m sorry. There’s no going out of a job for you. Next year in Anaheim?
Rhian Allvin: Yes, we are in… Well, we’re at Professional Learning Institute in June.
Chris Riback: You have other events, I understand.
Rhian Allvin: And in New Orleans. If you think Nashville’s fun, you do not want to miss New Orleans. And then yes, we are in Anaheim next year-
Chris Riback: For the annual conference.
Rhian Allvin: … for annual conference. Yes.
Chris Riback: Well, congratulations again on this year’s event. Thank you for coming by the studio.
Rhian Allvin: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.