Kerry Sullivan Ragno, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership & Change
The purpose of this dissertation was to evaluate the effectiveness of an Early Childhood Development Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree program at one community college as part of an ongoing action research project. Prior to this dissertation study, external and internal barriers prevented the associate degree program stakeholders from completing the evaluation phase. Those internal and external barriers were reflective of the historical marginalization of the early childhood education field in the United States, and were similar to those found in other higher education teacher preparation programs. Qualitative data were gathered from stakeholder participants during interviews and focus group sessions in order to answer three research questions: (1) What are the strengths of the Early Childhood Development AAS degree program? (2) What are the challenges of the Early Childhood Development AAS degree program? and (3) What are your suggestions for program improvements? A number of program strengths were identified: program curriculum, student observation and practical participation experiences, workforce preparation, and faculty collaboration. Program challenges included poor academic advising of students, lack of centralized program leadership, inefficient use of faculty, difficulty serving diverse learner needs, and difficulty placing students at observation and practical participation sites. Four suggestions for program improvements were made, including providing a dedicated academic advisor for early childhood students, coordinating student observation and practical participation placements, centralizing coordination of the Early Childhood Development AAS degree program and increasing program cohesion. Implications for practice, public policy, and future research on authentic program evaluation of teacher preparation programs are also presented.
Key words: authentic program evaluation, action research, early childhood, associate degree programs, higher education, teacher preparation