Yesterday, the Committee on Education and Child Development for the City Council of Chicago met to discuss one agenda item – “calling for hearings to determine the impact and consequences of consolidating Child Development programs at the City Colleges to single location”. Several representatives from City Colleges provided testimony after which the Aldermen had a chance to ask questions. It was an interesting experience for me. I’ve never attended a City Council meeting before. I was impressed with the questions they asked about the 6 nationally recognized Child Development programs offered at City Colleges and the obvious time they had put in to understanding the program and its impact on the early childhood workforce in the city of Chicago. There were many moments when I felt the Aldermen had a better grasp of our program than upper administration at the District Office. Many people had the chance to speak including a graduate who described the impact of studying Child Development at a college close to her home in Englewood and how that helped her to make a better life for her own children as well as the young children and families she served in her work as a child care provider. It was quite moving, but also very informative and I’m glad people were listening.
I’ve included my full remarks below:
My name is Carrie Nepstad. I am an Associate Professor of Child Development at Harold Washington College. I have been in that position for 13 years. In that time, I have also served as the Board President for the “Associate Degree Early Childhood Teacher Educators” association. Currently, I am on the editorial Board of “Voices of Practitioners” a publication of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and I also serve on Mayor Emanuel’s Early Childhood Education Workforce Development Taskforce. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies produced a report entitled “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation”. This is the full report. It is nearly 700 pages long. I served as a Practitioner Advisor on this report where I met with the committee at the National Academies offices in California Irvine as well as in Washington DC and then again here in Chicago.
All this is to illustrate that I serve many roles at the city, state, and national level where I am routinely asked to provide my expertise on a wide range of projects, initiatives, and policy. I am not rare. All of my fellow faculty in Child Development at City Colleges serve similar leadership roles and yet our own institution did not seek our expertise when the decision was made to close 5 nationally recognized Associate degree programs and leave Truman as the only option for Child Development students across the city. If they had consulted with us they would have seen how destructive this decision is to the child care workforce in the city of Chicago and how this decision, based on misleading information and inaccurate data, will hurt young children and their families in our most vulnerable neighborhoods for many years to come. We need to build the workforce and provide more access to higher education in our south and west side communities – not cut them off or create more burdens for them.
A major recommendation of this report is to increase the education level for the early childhood workforce. There is a sense of urgency in our field to provide access to higher education so people can build their academic credentials in the field. And, as the report states, strategies will be needed to
“mitigate possible negative consequences such as workforce shortages, [and] reduced diversity in the profession…” (p.8).
We have repeatedly stated that it will be exceptionally difficult for Child Development students residing and working on the south and west sides to travel across the city to attend classes at Truman College. The early childhood agencies where they work, which are legally bound to keep workers on site while children are present, will not be able to release employees early for such a long commute. The employers in all of your wards are already suffering under budget crises and teacher shortages. Shutting down these 5 accredited college programs puts additional undue burden on students, on early childhood employers and agencies, and on families in the communities where the early childhood center is often one the strongest resources in the neighborhood.
Because we draw students from every region of the city, Chicago is in an enviable position to meet the recommendations of this report and to build a highly qualified and diverse early childhood workforce. But we have to be mindful of the barriers our students face; they typically work full-time in early childhood while pursuing their degree and they often have children of their own. They are not in a high-wage position, yet they often feel compelled to give back to their communities. The strength of the early childhood workforce in Chicago is that the workers come from the communities in which they serve. We know how important this is for the development of young children and their families. We also know that the stresses they face are not mere inconveniences.
From page 476 of the report,
“The health and well-being of care and education professionals play a critical role in their effectiveness as educators and thus in the development of children… These effects of the stressors they experience can restrict the ability of educators to create positive, high-quality learning environments for their students”.
One of my recent graduates is a veteran who has faced many challenges upon returning to civilian life. While in Iraq, he would often be asked to play soccer with the local kids. Through this act of service, he came to realize that working with children was his true calling. Another student started attending classes in the late eighties and through a series of life events has had to stop and restart her studies many times over the years. Last semester, she almost stopped out again because her daughter had been diagnosed with a serious illness, but with the encouragement of her classmates she was finally able to complete her student teaching and achieve her goal. Another student, late in life, is now raising her nephew with disabilities while working full-time and continuing to take one class at a time to finish her degree. In her final semester, she suffered an illness, but she completed her homework from her hospital bed because she was so determined to finish on time with her classmates, and earn her degree.
I’ve worked with hundreds of students over the past 15 years that are just like these. They are real people facing real challenges. The role they play is extremely important in our society and we should be doing everything we can to support them. Our students are strong and they have demonstrated an ability to face many challenges yet City Colleges asks them to do the impossible when they say that students can get from their workplace on the far south or west side of the city to a 6pm course on the far north side using public transportation or even a shuttle. This is physically impossible. How dare we suggest that they will simply figure this out or go somewhere else? As a city, we can do better to support early childhood education. This is arguably one of the most important workforce development projects of our time and we can do better.
This is not about faculty who are supposedly unwilling to change. Most disciplines and programs across the City Colleges struggle to align their curriculum, yet the Child Development faculty have twice redesigned every core course in order to meet the demands of the field, they have gone through a rigorous accreditation process, and they have worked together to align offerings with the state credentialing system.
We reinvent ourselves annually. We are not afraid of change.
Child Development faculty have been working closely with the Education Dean over the past year to provide ongoing recommendations for the various upgrades City Colleges is making to the classroom spaces at Truman. We fully support that City Colleges has made some investment in that program as it was the only program in the District that did not have adequate resources including a lab space. We can continue to work together to support all Child Development programs at City Colleges. This absolutely can be done within budget. In fact, it has the potential of becoming a model within the District and beyond.
I want you to know that because of its unique District system with 6 separate accreditations, the Child Development programs at City Colleges of Chicago are known across the country and this process is being watched closely by Associate Degree faculty and institutions of higher ed. from Washington State to Washington DC. The people in our field know about what is happening here. They know it’s a mistake to shut down these programs and they are watching to see what the city of Chicago chooses to do about it.
Thank you very much for your time.