Building Pathways to Earning California’s PK-3 Credential

Accessible teacher preparation programs for the current ECE workforce will ensure they have a chance at new TK jobs
Blog Post
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Nov. 9, 2022

California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) is establishing a PK-3 Early Childhood Education (ECE) Specialist Credential to build the pipeline for a qualified, diverse workforce of teachers working in pre-K through third grade public school classrooms. This demand is largely being driven by the expansion of transitional kindergarten (TK), a year of school before kindergarten. Designed to bridge the path between preschool and kindergarten, TK will become available to all four-year olds in the state by 2025. More than 300,000 students are expected to enroll in TK in 2025-26.

California is one of the last states to introduce a teaching credential focused on earlier grades. The current Multiple Subject (MS) credential authorizes teachers to teach in preschool through twelfth grade classrooms. A more narrow credential that spans fewer grades is beneficial for teachers because it allows for more specialized instruction and training during the preparation program.

Based on projected student TK enrollment, districts will need to hire between 11,900 and 15,600 additional lead TK teachers by the 2025-26 school year, more than four times the estimated number in the current workforce. Researchers expect increases in teacher demand to peak next year when student-teacher ratios drop and in the final expansion year when all four-year olds are eligible. To ensure there are enough qualified teachers, the CTC has emphasized the need for “multiple, accessible pathways” to the credential, with current early childhood educators working in child care, state preschool, and Head Start settings as potential sources of credential earners.

An estimated 17,000 early childhood educators have Child Development Teacher Permits, bachelor’s degrees, and a wealth of experience teaching young children. This makes them well suited for the new TK jobs, yet the current guidelines still require them to complete a teacher preparation program, meet clinical hours, and pass assessments. Some question if this is overly burdensome, since MS credential holders need only to complete 24 units of ECE coursework to teach TK. And, rising teacher shortages mean that MS-credentialed teachers will likely be staffing these classrooms even without completing the coursework.

As the commission begins to support implementation, it is important for institutions of higher education (IHEs) and school districts to develop teacher preparation programs that reduce barriers for current early childhood educators, who already hold Child Development Teacher Permits and bachelor’s degrees, to earn the PK-3 ECE Specialist credential. First, teacher preparation programs should be designed to enhance educators’ existing knowledge instead of repeating content that was already a part of their previous education. To do this, programs should focus course material on knowledge, skills, and abilities that are different from and build upon coursework completed for the Child Development Permit, including the new domains for mathematics instruction and multilingual development. Doing this well requires coordination and planning across faculty associated with ECE and MS credential programs.

In addition, teacher preparation programs should be accessible. While this may not be their first encounter with higher education, offering flexible class schedules, hybrid options, financial resources, and course materials in different languages and formats can facilitate a smooth and supportive learning experience for candidates and those who have been historically underserved by IHEs. It is also important to communicate clearly about requirements. Program candidates should know what requirements they have left to complete, such as the number of clinical practice hours, which may differ depending on previous years of teaching experience. To the extent possible, programs should make this information available to potential candidates prior to the start of the program, so each candidate knows the amount of time needed to complete the program.

IHEs may structure preparation programs in different ways and should consider the programs’ fit for current early childhood educators. For example, the traditional post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program is generally a full-time, year-round program. Some programs may allow candidates to work part-time and some acknowledge previous coursework or teaching experience, but asking early childhood educators to leave their current employment and lose a year of income makes the program inaccessible and inequitable. Another option is targeted ECE teacher residency programs that allow candidates to teach alongside skilled teachers while completing coursework. In this context, candidates would hold assistant TK teacher positions, so it does not address the immediate need for qualified lead TK teachers. Fresno’s Teacher Residency Program ran a specific TK-3 teacher residency that was successful in attracting teachers with expertise in working with young children. The coursework emphasized learning, development, and foundational skills and the program used a project-based learning approach to pair theory with practice.

A third option is intern credential programs where candidates work as teachers of record while fulfilling the remaining requirements. Specifically, current early childhood educators would work as lead TK teachers. Intern credentials exist for multiple subject, single subject, and education specialist credentials and are currently offered by 83 institutions. Written justification is required to establish the intern credential program, which may be a barrier for some districts. Instead, they may hire teachers with MS credentials, opting out of a pool of highly experienced and qualified early childhood educators.

The PK-3 ECE Specialist Credential, along with TK expansion, is part of the larger Master Plan for Early Learning and Care. The plan outlines a roadmap for a “comprehensive and equitable early learning and care system.” As the state builds the pipeline to staff TK classrooms, continued guidance and funding opportunities for potential teachers, teacher preparation program sponsors, and school districts will be crucial to ensuring a smooth TK expansion for all children in all districts.

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Pre-K Birth Through Third Grade Learning