Celebrating a Million Strong: The CDA Milestone in Early Childhood Education

October 12, 2023

In the world of early childhood education, there’s a remarkable achievement that more people should know about – earning a Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™.

The Council for Professional Recognition, a nonprofit that supports early childhood education professionals, administers the CDA® and just announced that the 1 millionth Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™ has been awarded. This milestone represents the culmination of over four decades of dedicated efforts to elevate the quality of care and education provided to our nation’s youngest learners.

The journey toward this achievement began in 1975 when Margaret E. Wright received the very first CDA Credential. Back then, it was hard to envision the monumental impact this program would have on early childhood education (ECE). This pioneering initiative was born out of the need for a highly qualified workforce to support the Head Start program, designed to promote equitable early learning for all children, especially those from underserved communities. As Edward R. Zigler, the architect of the CDA, emphasized, the question was whether we would offer developmental child care or merely babysitting. The CDA was the answer, bridging the gap between theory and practice.

The demand for well-trained child care providers has always been substantial, but many faced obstacles in pursuing formal education. Adult learners with families and full-time jobs found it challenging to access the training they needed. The cost and time commitment of a college degree in early education were also significant hurdles.

The CDA has emerged as the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education. The CDA is a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in ECE. The CDA is based on the National CDA Competency Standards that guide early childhood professionals toward becoming qualified educators of young children.

A recent survey by the Council found that 87% of CDA-holders felt more prepared for their roles, equipping them with essential skills like evidence-based practices, specialized knowledge of child development, and the ability to manage challenging classroom situations.

What sets CDAs apart is their ability to connect with children and communicate effectively with parents. They demonstrate higher commitment and retention rates, which benefits both the children they serve and their employers. These highly skilled educators are precisely what the early childhood education field needs.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the commitment to the CDA remained unwavering. Applications for CDA renewals remained strong, underscoring the enduring value of this credential. Ten U.S. states and territories have integrated the CDA into their child care licensure and career progression pathways, ensuring that CDA holders play a central role in ECE.

Jada Vargas, an 18-year-old and recent graduate of Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona, is the 1 millionth person to earn the CDA.

Vargas says she realized becoming an educator was her calling when she worked in a child care center and began going through the CDA credentialing process. She says she learned very quickly that each child requires different types of support and interactions.

“If you want to pursue something you are passionate about, like the CDA, it is worth the effort. I believe you can do anything you put your mind to, and I try not to let anyone affect my journey,” she says.

Dr. Calvin E. Moore, Jr., the CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, says, “We congratulate Jada on earning her CDA and being the 1 millionth person to do. She joins a distinguished and successful group of professional educators who are well prepared to foster the social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth of young children. Having a CDA does more than just help educators bring out the best in children, it also advances their careers and contributes to the status of our profession.

Supportive measures, such as scholarships and financial assistance, are making it easier for educators to earn the CDA. Initiatives like the high school CDA program have also been instrumental in introducing young individuals to the early learning field, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills.

As we celebrate this historic milestone of 1 million CDAs, we know it’s a testament to the dedication, hard work, and resilience of educators who have embraced the CDA’s enduring purpose— igniting the imagination and nurturing the love of learning in our youngest learners.


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