Early childhood educators have a unique opportunity to foster the development of cognitive, behavioral, and social skills. But the work is not easy. Effective educators need to master a complex set of skills, which requires high-quality educational and training programs rooted in child development and practicums in early childhood classrooms led by highly-qualified teachers. Today, expectations of what early childhood educators should know and be able to do—and the education needed to access that knowledge and those skills—varies widely across states and individual programs. One result of these uneven and often low expectations is that too many educators are inadequately prepared for this challenging work.
Early childhood experts and advocates have long called for increasing the education and training of U.S. early childhood workers, and over the past two decades, policymakers have gradually increased credentialing requirements for teachers in Head Start and state-funded pre-K programs. The 2015 report from the National Academies Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation essentially endorsed that trend, recommending that states and other organizations build a system that requires and enables all lead educators in early childhood settings to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with specialized knowledge and competencies in early childhood education.
To unpack the complexities of this recommendation and its implications for teachers of three- and four-year-olds, New America and Bellwether Education Partners brought experts together for a day-long meeting on September 26, 2017 in Washington, DC, and conducted follow-up interviews. Discussion focused on the group of educators who are poised to achieve this: lead pre-K educators who are teaching three- and four-year-olds in publicly funded classrooms within early learning centers and elementary schools. Discussion also accounted for the fact that current members of the workforce may find it exceedingly difficult to find the time and money to attend college courses and complete traditional preparation programs, given the low wages that come with most jobs in early childhood. The aim of the meeting was to envision what preparation for current and future early educators should look like and to examine the potential of new, more accessible and higher-quality models for degree programs.
This new report, Pre-K Teachers and Bachelor’s Degrees: Envisioning Equitable Access to High-Quality Preparation Programs, summarizes the ideas from the meeting and follow-up interviews. It highlights strategies currently available to increase access and quality as well as recommendations for new strategy development. Finally, it pinpoints six issues that need to be addressed to better support the goal of ensuring all pre-K teachers have the core knowledge and competencies needed to effectively teach three- and four-year-olds.