Over the last few decades, a great deal of attention in K–12 education policy has been paid to improving educator quality, leading to various efforts at the federal, state, and local level. In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the seminal report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, that brought much-needed attention to the importance of strengthening the early education workforce. The report builds on past research on how much children are able to learn from a very early age, and explains the complex nature of effectively educating children during the first eight years of life. But most of the policy changes that have come about based on the large body of research highlighting educator effectiveness have focused on teachers. Much less attention has been paid to leaders.
Directors in child care centers and principals in elementary schools both oversee pre-K classrooms. In addition to determining how well their programs run day-to-day, these leaders also influence the quality of learning experiences offered to children. While staffing intricacies may vary, both center directors and principals are usually expected to be both operational and instructional leaders. As operational leaders, they are responsible for ensuring finances are in order; allocating what are often limited resources; recruiting, retaining, and managing personnel; and communicating with families. As instructional leaders, they select curricula and assessments and work closely with teachers to ensure that they are best serving students. The Transforming the Workforce report lays out the knowledge and competencies leaders need to work with young children.
Principals and center directors establish conditions for quality of the rest of the staff. For leaders to know whether teachers are providing appropriate instruction to their students and to best support both teacher and child development, they must understand how young children learn.Principals and center directors need preparation and professional development to build the knowledge and competencies outlined in Transforming the Workforce. They also need sufficient time, resources, and supports to effectively run their programs and provide high-quality learning environments for young children. Unfortunately, the existing requirements for training and certifying both principals and center directors in most states fall short in several ways, especially when it comes to imparting the latest research on best practices for child development and early learning.