Early Learning Career Pathways Initiative: Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field

This report provides an overview of the relationship between effective career pathways elements and existing early learning support systems. 

Chrys Limardo
Teresa Sweeney
Laura Taylor
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Manhattan Strategy Group
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This report was developed as part of the Early Learning Career Pathways Initiative, supported by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. It examines the current state of career pathways in the early learning industry intended to meet the skill, employment, and advancement needs of low-income, low-skilled adults who are in or entering this field.

This report provides a national landscape of states’ requirements for ECE staff related to credentialing, highlights five states at various points in the development of ECE career pathways, and shows how early learning system components used in the majority of states align with the Six Key Elements of Career Pathways Framework that other industries use.This study cross-referenced these elements for alignment with two leading frameworks in use in the early learning sector: the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) Framework and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Policy Blueprint for State Early Childhood Professional Development Systems. The frameworks were chosen because they incorporate components that can bolster efforts in the development of the six key elements of an effective career pathway. 

The report includes appendices with extensive resources that can be explored for further information, including information for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for early learning standards and staff degree and training requirements. 

This report is complemented by a second report, Accessing Career Pathways to Education and Training for Early Childhood Professionals

Benefits and Uses

The career pathways framework, data collected, examples in practice, and recommendations from an expert panel provide context for state administrators and stakeholders in the early learning field who are interested in developing and strengthening career pathways through examination of the relationship between effective career pathway elements and existing early learning support systems. 

An examination of the various components shows that both the QRIS and NAEYC professional development (PD) frameworks can inform the development of the Career Pathways Elements. In fact, there is a great deal of integrative potential among existing QRIS, professional development, and other workforce development systems and comprehensive career pathway systems. States’ existing frameworks can be used as potential building blocks to further develop or enhance a state’s early learning career pathway system. This report’s emphasis on credentialing in the ECE field is a particular fit with the third element of the Career Pathways Framework – “Design Education & Training Programs.” It should also be noted that this report’s findings and emphasis on credentialing are broadly consistent with those in Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation report, which the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) released after the data collection period of this report. The report explores how the science of children’s health, learning, and development can be employed to inform how to prepare an early learning workforce. For more on the connections between the IOM/NRC report and this one, see the call-out box on page 28.

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