Children’s foundations for learning are built based on their experiences during the first eight years of life. Research shows that children who are behind in third grade will struggle to catch up with their peers, and are subsequently more likely to be retained a grade or drop out of high school. That’s why it’s so important for children to have access to high quality education in the years preceding third grade.
Research also shows that teachers are the most important in-school factor impacting student achievement. As a result, a lot of time, research, and funding has been invested in trying to improve teaching quality. As more states and districts have realized the importance of high-quality early education and the need for strong educators who understand early learning and child development, they have run up against an unforeseen challenge: school leaders. As Kristie Kauerz, Director of the National P-3 Center at the University of Washington, explains, “What we often hear from teachers is that they go back into these spaces, and their leaders, their administrators, are not on board and don’t fully understand what developmentally appropriate practice looks like.”
After teachers, school leaders are the greatest in-school factor impacting student achievement. Yet many elementary school principals and center directors enter their leadership roles without a strong understanding of how to support pre-K and early grade teachers. This is problematic because as instructional leaders, principals and center directors are usually responsible for hiring, developing, supporting, and evaluating teachers. While most states require principals to have a master’s degree and special certification, preparation programs often do not focus on early learning. Many states don’t require elementary principals to have any prior experience working with young children either. For center directors, most states require little formal preparation. And when education or training is required there is rarely a focus on instructional leadership. This interactive map shows what types of pre-service requirements each state has for elementary school principals and center directors.
Fortunately, some states and districts are addressing these gaps in leaders’ knowledge through professional learning opportunities. Kristie Kauerz directs one such program at the University of Washington. The following video was produced by New America to show what it looks like to develop a professional learning program for leaders that brings together principals and center directors. The video centers on the Washington P-3 Executive Leadership Certificate Program, which also is designed to prompt collaboration in teams within specific communities.
This video is part of New America’s new Transforming the Early Education Workforce: A Multimedia Guidebook, an interactive space that makes the key takeaways from the National Academy of Medicine’s 2015 report on the early childhood education workforce more digestible and actionable. This guidebook includes four additional videos produced by New America, which you can find here.