A Tale of Two Pre-K Leaders

How State Policies for Center Directors and Principals Leading Pre-K Programs Differ, and Why They Shouldn’t
Policy Paper
May 17, 2017

Child care directors are consistently held to lower standards than elementary school principals, though both groups influence the quality of most three- and four-year-olds’ learning experiences, new research from New America finds.

A 50-state scan from New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team found that although child care center directors and elementary principals have similar roles and responsibilities, the qualification requirements for these positions are drastically different across state lines, and even within their own borders. For example, 40 states require elementary school principals to have at least a master’s degree, yet 41 states do not require center directors to have an associate’s degree.

Research shows that after teachers, school leaders are the greatest in-school factor impacting student achievement. In A Tale of Two Pre-K Leaders, author Abbie Lieberman demonstrates how setting low expectations for pre-K leaders in any setting can jeopardize the quality of learning experiences children receive.

“Existing requirements for training and certifying both principals and center directors in most states fall short in several ways,” said Lieberman, “especially when it comes to imparting the latest research on best practices for child development and early learning.”  

Lieberman makes several recommendations for states to better align the two sectors and improve both elementary school principal and center director quality:

Increase center director qualification requirements to reflect child development research.

Require elementary school principals to have teaching experience or clinical experience specifically in elementary schools.

Increase professional learning opportunities for both principals and center directors.

Accompanied by a series of interactive maps, the report allows policymakers and researchers to readily view data and easily compare how policies concerning center directors and principals differ within and across state lines.

New America partnered with the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership, who today released their L.E.A.D. Early Childhood™ Clearinghouse, on the data collection. This online database makes new data on leaders accessible to stakeholders and encourages a cross-sector systems approach to improving the qualifications and ongoing professional development of early childhood leaders.

Related Topics
Training School Leaders Teachers and Leaders Workforce Pre-K