In February 2013, the College of Education at the University of Central Florida presented a redesign plan that included suspending the Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) undergraduate and graduate degrees. This plan would continue the existing Early Childhood minor in the Elementary Education degree program at UCF.
In the state of Florida, the UCF ECDE degree program stands out as unique in the College of Education because it offers two tracks: 1) a teacher preparation track that leads to teacher certification in Pre-Kindergarten through Third Grade and 2) a child development track for future early childhood professionals who want a career working with children, parents, and families in a variety of non-public school settings. The child development degree is also designed to meet the degree and credentialing federal mandate for Head Start teaching staff. If the UCF ECDE program is suspended, there will be no 4 year Higher Education institute in Central Florida for pre-professionals and current professionals to meet the developmental and educational needs of the community’s youngest learners.
The suspension of the ECDE degrees would do a great disservice to future students of UCF and the Central Florida community. The two ECDE degrees offer the only degree program at UCF for the development and education of infants and young children. ECDE has partnered with other departments, such as Social Work, Psychology, and Communication Sciences and Disorders to combine courses and teach undergraduate and graduate students the developmental theories and practices of working with infants and young children.
When UCF students choose to earn an ECDE degree, they do it for the fundamental reason of selecting a program that intentionally teaches best practices for guiding the growth and development of infants and young children. While there is an overlap in the grade levels taught with an ECDE teacher preparation degree (Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3) and an Elementary Education degree (Kindergarten through Grade 6), the two programs have very divergent philosophies. In fact, the Early Childhood program and the Elementary Education program are not even in the same departments within UCF’s College of Education.
If the undergraduate ECDE degree is eliminated, the only option for students seeking a teacher preparation degree would be to minor in early childhood in the UCF Elementary Education degree. A minor would provide 18 credit hours in early childhood rather than 60 credit hours for a major in early childhood. Then, these students would be required to take the Elementary Ed. Subject Area Exam in order to earn a B.S. and then would also have to take the PreK/Primary Subject Area Exam in order to be certified in early childhood (each exam is approx. $150.00). For all students to learn the core philosophies taught in ECDE, the credit hours for the Elementary Education degree would need to be increased or there would need to be significant changes to the current Elementary Education courses, adding developmental theory and developmentally appropriate curriculum methods. Otherwise, there will be no opportunity for UCF students to learn about children’s developmental processes and best practices for teaching young children.
Additionally, prospective students who want to work with children, parents, and families in capacities beyond the traditional K-6 classroom as well as those who would like to earn a Master’s or a Ph.D. in Early Childhood would need to seek out another university, outside of Central Florida, to meet those needs.
President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have committed themselves to increasing the quality of early childhood development and education, including expanding funding for the early education of children before they enter Kindergarten. The national agenda, both fiscal and bipartisan, is that we, as a nation, must invest in early childhood. In fact, the Affordable Health Care Act has programs within it that emphasize early intervention, parent education, and home visitation as tools to reach children early in their lives. Both of the UCF undergraduate ECDE degrees provide training for professionals to carry out the national agenda.
The Florida Teacher Certification Subject Area Exam for PreK/Primary was recently updated, further indicating that early childhood is separate from Elementary Education and indicates its importance and permanence in Florida.
After checking the UCF records, several important facts about the ECDE program emerged showing that the UCF ECDE program has been productive:
- Currently approximately 370 undergraduate students are enrolled in the ECDE BS degree program.
- Over 5 years, the enrollment of undergraduate ECDE degree programs has dropped by only 16 students. (In contrast, it should be noted that this is significantly lower than other programs with the College of Education, with some programs dropping hundreds of students.)
- ECDE Track 1 students’ first attempt pass rate for the Florida Teachers Certification Exam has increased every year for the past five years. During the 2011-2012 school year, the pass rate was 100%. (In contrast, the 2011-2012 average first attempt pass rate for the College of Education average was 87.7%).
- In Fall 2012, the Early Childhood Track of the Education Ph.D. program was launched, making a prestigious research institution such as UCF a competitive option for students who seek this degree.
- In the past five years, ECDE advisors have consistently noted Elementary Education majors switching to ECDE. These shifts indicate that students are clear in their focus for their professional education and want to have the option of which area of teaching on which to focus their professional preparation.
- Early Childhood faculty members at UCF have formed many strong community partnerships. Some of the many community programs that welcome our Track 2 Child Development students for their practicums and with whom the ECDE faculty and students consult include: Orlando Day Nursery, Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, Head Start, Arnold Palmer Hospital, Nap Ford Community School, City of Orlando Parramore Kidz Zone’s Baby Institute, Grand Avenue Primary Learning Center, Sesame Street Workshop, UCF’s Creative School for Children, Children’s Home Society.
The decision to merge the early childhood program into the elementary education program seems to be short-sighted and does not indicate an understanding of current literature and targeted focus on improving early childhood opportunities. President Obama’s (February 12, 2013) State of the Union Address specifically noted that one of his priorities is to educate the nation’s youngest children. He reported clear data which shows the value of each dollar invested in early childhood saves $7.00 in the future (graduation rates increase, more students attend college, are employed, and fewer prisons are needed). If UCF chooses to suspend the ECDE program, Central Florida will lose the quality of ECDE professionals that our nation is seeking and UCF will lose students to the other major universities in Florida who continue to offer the Early Childhood degrees.
UCF Early Childhood Education Alumnus