In-Service Requirements

In-Service Requirements

While aspiring principals and center directors may best be reached through preparation programs, leaders already in the field also need opportunities to learn and improve their skills. Even the most seasoned early education leaders can benefit from high-quality, ongoing professional learning. Researchers have gained a deeper understanding of the science of child development and early learning in recent years and professional development can help ensure that leaders stay up to date on the best practices for working with young children.

<iframe width="1200" height="1200" src=""></iframe>

In-Service Requirements for Principals

ECE Professional Learning

Too many elementary principals enter the job with a limited understanding of early childhood education. Professional learning focused on early education and the role leaders play in building a strong PreK–3rd grade continuum of learning can improve their capacity to support young students and their teachers. There are a handful of states leading the way on this work. See the full report for more information on efforts in New Jersey and Minnesota.

New America’s Finding: Twelve states responded to our survey stating that they offered this type of professional learning opportunity for principals. Thirty-two states and Washington, DC reported that they do not offer this. New America does not have data on the remaining six states.
<iframe width="700" height="700" src=""></iframe>

Does the state offer professional learning (such as training, mentoring, or coaching) around early childhood education or PreK–3rd alignment for elementary principals?

Joint Professional Learning

Children need to have smooth transitions from one year of schooling to the next in order to sustain the gains made each year. The transition from pre-K to kindergarten can be a particularly challenging time, especially if it is a child’s first time in an elementary school. One way to encourage smooth transitions is to strengthen the alignment of child care centers and elementary schools. Collaboration, coordination of standards and curriculum, and information sharing are key to meaningful alignment. When principals and center directors participate in joint professional learning they can establish relationships with each other and ensure that they have a similar knowledge base. Some states and districts are offering joint professional learning for principals and the center directors whose programs feed into their schools in order to facilitate these smooth transitions.

New America’s Finding: According to our survey responses, only seven states offer joint professional development for principals and center directors: Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Formal Evaluations

Principal evaluation is key to holding leaders accountable for their performance, and it is also helpful in identifying areas where they can improve their practice. Most principal evaluation systems are only a few years old and there is little research on best practices. There is significant variation in design and implementation by state. 

New America’s Finding: All states require principals to be formally evaluated. Most states give districts the discretion to determine who conducts the evaluation, but evaluations are usually left to the superintendent.

In-Service Requirements for Center Directors

QRIS Tied to Different Tiers

As of 2016, 39 states and Washington, DC had created QRISs to monitor and improve the quality of their early childhood education programs. Programs earn a rating based on their ability to meet a host of quality indicators, and higher ratings are often tied to opportunities for more funding. Tying center director qualifications and professional learning to tiers in QRIS is one way states can encourage center directors to seek higher levels of education and training.

As we did with principals, our scan aimed to understand the type of professional development opportunities available to center directors. Due to a lack of available data, it was not possible to determine the details of state professional development requirements for center directors in most states. This information is rarely included in licensing standards or outlined in director credential requirements. However, a few states do outline specific professional learning requirements in the QRIS tiers.

New America’s Finding: Thirty-three states currently encourage higher educational qualifications through QRIS by tying education and training to different tiers. However, for center-based early childhood education programs, participation in QRIS is voluntary in most states. Only Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma require participation for center-based programs. Participation rates in other states vary significantly.
<iframe width="700" height="700" src=""></iframe>

Does the state’s QRIS tie center director qualifications to different tier levels?

Formal Evaluations

The push to implement meaningful teacher and principal evaluation under the Obama administration stayed in the K–12 education policy space and did not extend into the years before elementary school. As with principals, center director evaluation could both hold administrators accountable for their performance and improve their performance by identifying areas for improvement. While no state has requirements around director evaluation, licensing standards do usually require that programs be regularly monitored for compliance, but this is not specific to directors. There is no superintendent-equivalent at the child care level to evaluate center director performance. Local child care resource and referral agencies may be best suited to do this work in some areas.

New America’s Finding: From a review of state licensing standards, it appears that no state requires formal evaluation of center directors.

In-Service Takeaways

States can do more to support meaningful professional learning for both principals and center directors. While states and districts have some requirements and resources in place to support professional learning for principals, few states are specifically directing that support toward helping principals become stronger leaders for pre-K classrooms.

States often have less infrastructure in place for center director professional learning. Based on the disjointed nature of child care center oversight, it is not surprising that New America and the McCormick Center were unable to find details about ongoing training requirements for directors or determine meaningful details about the type of professional learning opportunities available within a state. Our scan did not determine whether state-provided professional learning focuses on child development, instructional leadership, or administrative skills. QRISs appear to be a primary way that states are encouraging directors to pursue further education and training.

Failing to offer joint professional learning for principals and center directors is a missed opportunity to strengthen alignment between programs. Unfortunately, even when states do offer professional learning opportunities around early childhood education for leaders, it is often voluntary and limited to small groups due to funding constraints. Because leader professional development is often determined at the local or program level, there are limited state-level data on in-service requirements.