why cda? why now?—a focus on competence

Valora Washington, Ph.D.
For the 1.8 million members of the U.S. early care and education workforce, the realities of teaching are
paradoxical. On one hand, government entities across the federal, state, and local levels are spending
billions of dollars annually to enhance early care and education programs.1 Yet, many early education
staff have relatively low levels of education, with two in 10 having a high school education or less.2
Efforts to advance the early care and education must confront this reality by supporting the professional
development among its practitioners. In this respect, many efforts have focused on increasing the
education requirements of early educators. Today, for example, 66 percent of Head Start teachers now
have bachelor’s degrees. In addition, state Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) include
career lattices that recognize increased education levels.
Yet, research demonstrates that postsecondary institutions do a poor job of preparing teachers to work
in the classroom with pre-kindergarten children.3 Also, the New America report cited a 2013 study in
Science that found that even highly-rated pre-kindergarten sites did not necessarily have the attributes
that lead to higher academic outcomes for children ages zero to five.4
Clearly, there is growing evidence that college degrees alone do not improve the quality of learning
environments. While the Council encourages and applauds the attainment of degrees, this paper aims to
bring attention to teacher competence as an essential element to support the workforce and advance
the field.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal calls for $1.3 billion in mandatory funds for universal
pre-school (part of a 10-year, $75 billion commitment) and another $500 million for pre-school development
grants. U.S. Department of Education. 2014. Early Learning: America's Middle Class Promise Begins Early.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, Ph.D., V. 2013, CDA 2.0: Supporting People and Advancing our Field, Young Children Magazine;
National Association for the Education of Young Children; Washington, D.C., p. 68. Note: Dr. Washington cited;
GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office) 2012 Early Child Care and Education: HHS and Education are Taking
Steps to Improve Workforce Data and Enhance Worker Quality. Report to the Chairman, Committee on Finance,
U.S. Senate. www.gao.gov/assets/590/588577.pdf
Guensey, L., Bornfreund, L., McCann, C., Williams, C., 2014, Subprime Learning: Early Education since the Great
Recession. New America Education Policy Program. Washington, D.C., www.newamerica.org, p. 12
Ibid, p. 14 Note: The New America report cited: Sabol, T.J., Soliday Hong, S.L., Pianta R.C., Burchinel, M.R., 2013,
Can Rating Pre-K Programs Predict Children’s Learning? Science, pp. 845-846,
Why CDA?
Since 1975, the field has relied on the Child Development Associate ™ (CDA) National Credentialing
Program to form the foundation of professional development. The CDA represents expert consensus
about what early educators should know and be able to do in the classroom. For this reason, it plays a
significant role across the spectrum of early childhood settings in the United States, from employersponsored child care to federal-government based entities such as Head Start and military child care
The CDA is also included in many state level QRIS systems and a wide range of community-based
services for young children and their families. Given its national stature, the CDA credential is portable
across states and school districts nationwide. It is competency-based, multilingual and adaptable to any
setting where young children are enrolled.
And, the CDA has stood the test of time—more than 325,000 people have earned the CDA credential,
with 20,000 new and 18,000
renewal CDAs awarded in 2013
Getting the CDA turned into a lifesaver for me because it was a
competency-based credential and it provided me with the
Key Elements of Competency
What makes the CDA so
effective? The CDA credential
opportunity to document what I was doing in the classroom. I
then developed a passion for working with young children and
that inspired me to continue my education. Today I have a PhD.
Calvin E. Moore, Jr.—Earned his CDA in 1992
contains many of the
components of teacher competency that both research and expert consensus have demonstrated are
important. Competency must include both a strong knowledge base (education) and demonstrated
practice (experience). The CDA accomplishes this in several ways for a significant number of early
educators. Here are six elements of competency that the Council believes make the CDA effective:
1. The CDA includes multiple sources of evidence: 120 hours of formal training, 480 hours of work
experience, a Professional Portfolio, family questionnaires, an onsite observation and an exam.
Many programs that identify themselves as CDA-equivalent are essentially training certificates—
not comprehensive professional development systems.5
Examples include:
New Hampshire Early Childhood Credential: http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/cdb/documents/earlychildhood.pdf
Consistent with the NAEYC Professional Preparation Standards,6 the CDA competency standards
transform discrete learning experiences into an integrated body of knowledge, dispositions and
skills. The CDA credential represents an organized process, a coherent sequence of learning
experiences aligned with defined learning outcomes, and a comprehensive system of
assessment that ensures that candidates master defined learning outcomes and—most
importantly —can demonstrate them in practice. To further underscore the point, fewer
colleges and universities are offering bachelor degree programs in early care and education,
opting to only offer degrees in elementary education. In this scenario, again, the competencies
that make for a good early childhood educator are not addressed. To get maximum
performance, specialized education and experience in early care and education is a better
3. The CDA includes a direct observation of the CDA candidate in their work setting as a lead
teacher. A 2013 study suggested that states might use indicators, such as observation-based
scores of teacher interactions that are more closely related to student academic outcomes.7
4. Because the CDA credentialing process is conducted in multiple languages, the CDA builds in
respect for diversity. When program settings and teachers acknowledge and support children’s
home language and culture, ties between the family and school are strengthened. 8 The CDA
embeds knowledge and skill for dealing with diverse children and families, including children of
all abilities, and it respects the staff by offering the CDA assessment in any language that their
daily work requires, thus evaluating their competence in the real context of their work.
Conversely, a majority of teachers in one study felt they had learned to work with culturally
diverse children and families from other teachers or on their own rather than through their
teacher training experience.9
New Mexico Child Development Certificate: http://www.cnm.edu/programs-of-study/communicationhumanities-and-social-sciences/educ/brochure/Child_Development_Certificate.pdf
Wisconsin ECE Initial Certificate: http://www.del.wa.gov/publications/PD/docs/Stackable_Certificates.pdf
Lutton, A., 2011. Advancing the Early Childhood Profession: NAEYC Standards and Guideline for Professional
Development, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, D.C.
Guernsey, et. al., p. 14 Note: The New America report cited: Sabol, T.J., Soliday Hong, S.L., Pianta R.C., Burchinel,
M.R., 2013, Can Rating Pre-K Programs Predict Children’s Learning? Science, pp. 845-846,
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1995. Position Statement. Responding to linguistic and
culturally diversity: Recommendations for effective early childhood education.
Ray, A. & Bowman, B. 2003. Learning multicultural competence: Developing early childhood practitioners’
effectiveness in working with children from culturally diverse communities. Final report to the A.L. Mailman Family
Foundation Initiative on Race, Class and Culture in Early Childhood, Chicago.
5. The CDA values parent engagement. When teachers and families work together, children’s
development and learning is fully supported. Substantial research supports family involvement,
and a growing body of intervention evaluations demonstrates that family involvement can be
strengthened with positive results for young children and their school readiness. Many of the
studies found significant positive correlations between parent involvement and young children’s
cognitive development, approaches to learning, language and vocabulary acquisition, and preliteracy skills.10 However, a 2009 survey of university faculty members shows that their students’
field experiences were inadequate; that the students had few or no opportunities to work with
families.11 The CDA credentialing process invites parental involvement by inviting family
members to complete questionnaires on their perceptions of a CDA candidate’s strengths and
areas for professional development.
6. The CDA offers a practical career pathway for the realities of the early care and education
workforce. The CDA credential is a pathway to learning best teaching practices for many people:
The assistant teacher with a dozen years of practice, but without much formal education
The teacher who already holds an academic degree, but needs to gain hands-on
practical skill and competency
The high school student interested in a career with young children12
Clearly, a focus on degree attainment alone is insufficient to meet the needs of children or for preparing
a well-qualified early education workforce. Specialized early childhood teacher preparation processes,
like the CDA, are essential to both support the people who work in the field as well as to advance the
field as a whole. Teacher effectiveness requires a union between what the teacher knows and what the
teacher can do.
Why Now?
We know there are performance and credibility gaps in the early care and education field13, yet we must
move forward. Mentoring or onsite training (like the type presented in the CDA credentialing process)
Fantuzzo, J., Tighe, E., & Childs, S. (2000). Family Involvement Questionnaire: A multivariate assessment of family
participation in early childhood education. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(2), 367–370
Hyson, M., Tomlinson, H.B., Morris C.A.S. 2009 Quality Improvement in Early Childhood Teacher Education:
Faculty Perspectives and Recommendations for the Future. Early Childhood and Parenting (ECAP) Collaborative.
Champaign, Ill. Retrieved from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v11n1/hyson.html.
Washington, V., p. 68
Goffin, S., Washington, V., 2007. Ready or Not: Leadership Choices in Early Care and Education. Teachers College
Press. New York.
and formal education are not alternatives to one another, rather they are complementary ingredients
for developing effective practitioners.14 This is particularly true for early educators who are largely
comprised of adult learners on a career pathway. In this way, we advance the field of early care and
education by supporting the nearly 2 million people who comprise it.
Whitebook, M., Kipnis, F., Sakai, L., Almarez, M., 2011. Learning together: A study of six B.A. completion cohort
programs in early care and education: year 3. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of
California at Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif. pp. 5-6