A Moment with Dr. Moore

February 22, 2024

Black Teachers and the Bottom Line: Expect More with a CDA

Earning a CDA empowers Black early childhood teachers by promoting equity and inclusion. I know firsthand the impact that a CDA can make from looking back on the course of my life. As an assistant teacher at Head Start, I completed my CDA over 30 years ago, and the knowledge I gained ignited my career. I wanted to know everything about how to serve young learners, so I advanced my education and ultimately earned a Ph.D. in early childhood education. I went on to hold several high-profile government jobs before assuming my current position. I am the first Council CEO to hold a CDA, and that’s a testament to how far a CDA can take you. It gave me wings to soar where I never expected to go.

Now I’m working to give all early childhood teachers the tools to also take them as far as they can go, whatever their culture, creed or race. The Council is committed to inclusion, so we strive to help all our CDA holders gain the kudos that they deserve throughout the year. As we honor Black History Month, I want to put a spotlight on our Black CDAs and show how earning the credential has changed the course of their lives.

Take Jarrell Harris, a young man whose prospects seemed dim as he grew up in a poor part of Steger, Illinois. He spent years adrift, working everywhere from Cracker Barrel to Chipotle and Kmart before a friend helped him get a job at a day care, where he showed a gift for working with little folks. The warm response he received from his class inspired him to boost his competence in ECE by earning a CDA. Then he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in special ed, become a lead teacher and even found his own early childhood program, Empowering Young Lives. Jarrell believes that children can exceed what people expect of them because that’s exactly what he achieved.

So did Jerry Graham, once a 19-year-old man who didn’t know what to do with his life. He went into child care for a paycheck. Yet it became a passion that led him to earn his CDA and realize that having an education is important for serving young children. While earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree, he also moved up in his career until becoming the director of two Florida child care centers. Now he has his own business, Early Learning Consulting, and provides child care programs with opportunities for training and professional growth, like the CDA. His commitment to the credential has inspired him to serve on our CDA Advisory Committee and work as a Professional Development Specialist who guides rising teachers in earning their CDA.

The CDA is a great beginning, according to Tameka Donaldson, who dropped out of college as a young mom to take care of her children. One day she wanted to do something new with her life, so she went to a day care near her home and found her first job in our profession. After earning her CDA, she went on to become a lead teacher and earned her doctorate in education. Now she’s the director of the KinderCare Learning Center in Grove City, Ohio, where she has succeeded in getting most of her staff members to earn their CDAs. When they do, she celebrates their achievement since she knows that it means they are professional teachers. And, like Jerry, she has lent her expertise as a PD Specialist by assessing over 100 candidates for the credential.

PD Specialists, like Tameka and Jerry, play a key role for educators like Crystal Barksdale, who runs Ms. Crystal’s Little Rugrats, a family child care home in a Baltimore, Maryland, suburb. After ten years in the business, she learned about the CDA and how it could expand her knowledge. It turned out that it also expanded Crystal’s peer network and made her think about how she could contribute to the early childhood profession. For a time, she served as vice president of the child care division at her local branch of the Service Employees International Union, where she helped providers complete the paperwork for the CDA, write their professional statements and put their CDA portfolios together. Then she served on the Maryland Office of Child Care Advisory Council, where she supported the idea of helping folks earn their CDA as part of Maryland’s “Blueprint for the Future.”

Funding from the Maryland State Department of Education has allowed state educators to earn their CDA at almost no cost for the past few years. Aid for classes, fees and books only sweetens the deal for a credential that’s already cost effective. This makes the CDA a great way to expand the pipeline of Black early childhood teachers and smooth the financial roadblocks that can stop many talented people from entering our profession.

“There are a lot of potentially great Black educators who aren’t making it to the classroom,” said Tara Kilbride, lead author of “Tracking Progress Through Michigan’s Teacher Pipeline,” a study conducted at Michigan State University last year. A major obstacle to recruiting Black students into the early learning profession is that they tend to graduate with double the college debt of their white peers due to lower family incomes. As a result, they often dismiss teaching as a career in favor of better-paying fields, like business and engineering, technology and the law. The bottom line is that many hopeful Black teachers feel compelled to choose jobs that will make them more financially sound.

In addition, “there’s a time cost,” Kilbride said. “Some college education programs require a fifth year for students to complete apprenticeships and student teaching. So that’s an extra year that they’re spending on their education and not earning a wage”—a double whammy that can deter Black students from going into the teaching profession. So how can they carry out their dreams of teaching young children without being crushed by debt?

The CDA provides an alternative route for these aspiring teachers. It costs much less than a college degree. CDA students can complete their credential in a couple of years. And the Council has designed the credentialing process to make it convenient, even for people who already hold full-time jobs. These advantages can encourage more Black students to enter the early childhood field. Once there, CDA holders tend to make higher pay and earn more promotions than their uncredentialed peers. So, earning a CDA makes a difference in their careers.

It also helps Black teachers to make a difference for children. Research has shown that young Black students are less likely to be suspended and more likely to attend gifted classes if they have Black teachers. Seeing a teacher of their own race helps Black children believe they can succeed, too. So, we need more people like Jerry, Tameka, Crystal and Jarrell, whose life histories I’ve briefly summed up. Black teachers like these are building the future for children in ways that Jarrell aptly described.

“I’m committed to being a role model for the young Black boys I serve,” he told me. “I want the boys to know that I’ll never stop rooting for them and that they have the power in them to rock the world. I’m convinced you shouldn’t put limits on children, even when they seem to have problems. Kids can achieve much more than you think”—and so can our Black early childhood teachers. They should expect even more when they earn a CDA.




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