Event Recap: When Degree Programs For Pre-K Teachers Go Online

Blog Post
Dec. 1, 2017

New America’s Learning Technologies Project and Early and Elementary Education Policy teams hosted an event that brought together early and higher education leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities of online degree programs for pre-K teachers.

Shayna Cook presented key takeaways from her report, When Degree Programs for Pre-K Teachers Go Online examines challenges the early childhood education (ECE) workforce faces amidst the push for lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. The report shows how online degree programs can potentially be a viable pathway for pre-K teachers and offers important recommendations for education leaders and policymakers interested in creating accessible online bachelor’s degree programs. The paper also emphasizes the need for quality higher education data and the benefits of online degree programs that provide financial supports for ECE teachers.

At the event, Cook explained that “policymakers cannot simply raise credential requirements. There are often unintended consequences that harm early childhood teachers directly and children indirectly when policymakers set unrealistic deadlines and raise the qualifications without setting up supportive programs.”

Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post moderated the event’s panel, which included Gail Joseph, founding director of EarlyEdU Alliance, Katie Benson, program director of the Early Childhood Online Completer Program at Ball State University (BSU), Karen Bales, alumna of BSU’s Early Childhood Online Completer Program, and Shayna Cook, policy analyst on New America’s Education Policy team. The panelists explored some of the barriers that pre-K teachers face in attaining higher education. Issues of accessibility, flexibility, and affordability of degree programs were central to the dialogue.

Online degree programs allow flexibility for working professionals with busy schedules. Courses are often delivered asynchronously so that students can log on at any point to watch lectures and complete assignments. Gail Joseph, who also directs the Early Childhood and Family Studies program at the University of Washington, said during the event, “We see that our students log on between 8:00 PM and 1:00 AM. That’s when they have time to do their coursework. And that’s not when, even evening courses, are usually offered at a university.” Joseph went on to say that the flexibility of online programs allows early childhood teachers the opportunity to stay embedded in their community while still furthering their education.

Karen Bales, a graduate of BSU’s online bachelor’s degree program and current pre-K teacher at Blue River Elementary School in Indiana, cited program flexibility, financial support from the T.E.A.C.H. Indiana scholarship program, and the ongoing support from professors and advisors as key to her success. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship Program, which covered a large percentage Bales’s cost of attendance, is available in over twenty states and is featured in Cook’s report.   

Online pathways may be a viable option for many pre-K teachers, but significant challenges remain. The report urges leaders in policy and education to work to improve higher education data and to be more conscientious of the challenges current and future pre-K teachers face in meeting new requirements.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Early childhood teachers must overcome significant financial barriers to benefit economically from a bachelor’s degree. Without scholarship and grant programs, along with improved compensation, teachers will continue to have difficulty acquiring a bachelor’s degree.

  • More comprehensive higher education data and research are needed to better understand the online degree landscape as well as to distinguish between quality and sub-par programs.

  • Programs must be tailored to meet the needs of the workforce in order to leverage its current skills and expertise.

  • New approaches to monitoring and evaluating the quality of early childhood programs deserve attention and review.

While continued research is needed regarding the quality of online learning in the early childhood context, policymakers and education leaders have an opportunity to address many of these challenges so that online education is a viable and supportive pathway for ECE teachers.

You can watch a recording of the event here.