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Teacher Quality in Grades PK-3: Challenges and Options


1) The PK-3 Workforce is Subject to an Array of Entry Standards. Public school teachers in grades K-3 must meet the quality standards of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Pre-kindergarten (PK) teachers in Title I-funded programs also are regulated by NCLB. But Head Start teachers have their own separate entry standards. In some state PK programs, all teachers must possess a bachelor’s degree and have engaged in additional early childhood or PK-3 training. In others, only a Child Development Associate certificate is required.

2) There are Approximately 1.5 Million Teachers in the PK-3 Workforce. New America estimates that some 80 percent of the overall PK-3 teaching workforce holds a bachelor’s degree. Only 39 percent of PK teachers, however, hold a four year degree in comparison to almost all K-3 teachers. Of note, three out of four state-funded PK program teachers hold a bachelor’s degree. Elementary school teachers are paid more than double their PK counterparts ($47,000 v. $23,000 per year), except those in state-funded PK programs who, in keeping with their comparable credentials, are paid salaries comparable to, but still lower than, their elementary school counterparts. PK-3 teacher turnover rates are inversely related to salary.

3) Pre-Service and In-Service Training Standards for PK-3 Educators Vary Considerably Across States and Programs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children sets standards for early childhood teacher education programs. However, not all colleges of education meet or are required to meet applicable standards. In fact, colleges of education have limited capacity to offer quality PK-3 teacher training programs. Substantial federal funding exists for in-service Head Start and K-3 training, but surveys suggest that states pay little systematic attention to in-service training quality or content in K-3 education. Instead there is an emphasis on participation hours.

Recommended is that NCLB Title V funding be dedicated to early education expansion, conditioned on an assurance that all publicly supported PK-3 lead teachers meet a new “highly qualified early educator” standard. Competency may be evidenced through completion of a four-year early childhood education post-secondary program or by passing a new, national “high, objective, uniform standard of evaluation” that is a performance-based measure of knowledge, skills and disposition.

Recommendedis that over a phased-in period of time, Head Start’s minimum teacher quality standards be aligned with a new, NCLB “highly qualified early educator” definition. A portion of Head Start’s increased future appropriations should be dedicated toward improved Head Start educator quality and pay.

Recommended is that Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA) be targeted to support integrated PK-3 teacher preparation and certification programs. Further recommended is that HEA’s college of education accountability standard be revised to reflect the percentage of students who begin and complete programs, including improved disaggregation of certification data, such as PK-3 certification success.

Recommendedis that Title II of NCLB expressly authorize and encourage integration of PK and K-3 in-service training and alternative certification pathways for non-traditional early educators, including for example new college graduates who might participate in a Teach for America Early Childhood Initiative or similar local efforts.

The full text of this report is available in PDF format.