The expectations and qualification requirements for educators of children from B–8 vary widely based on educator role, ages of children with whom they work, and the practice setting. For example, in some states and settings, teachers may be required to earn a bachelor’s degree and a particular type of teaching license; in other places, those with responsibilities for young children’s learning may not be required to have attained anything beyond a high school diploma. Evidence on the impact of credentials is sparse and mixed. As the authors of Transforming the Workforce write, “the available studies alone are insufficient to enable conclusions as to whether a bachelor’s degree improves the quality and effectiveness of educators, whether for early childhood settings or for K–12 schools.”
This may be explained in part by the fact that the focus and overall quality of degree programs for teachers vary widely. Degree requirements set by state or program policies, for example, may not include a program design based on the science of child development and learning or address subject-matter content and pedagogical strategies.
Nonetheless, wide consensus exists across states and types of schools that early elementary educators should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. For B–5 early childhood educators, however, consensus is still needed regarding an “educational floor” despite extensive research and debate for more than a decade regarding the merits of early childhood educators having a bachelor’s degree. For an overview of differences in expectations for B-5 and elementary school teachers, see the chart on page 423.
Disparity between qualification expectations for early childhood and early elementary school educators perpetuates perceptions and policies that assume early childhood educators interacting directly with children prior to kindergarten require limited knowledge and skills.
Disparities in qualification requirements foster inequities for children and within the early care and education workforce. Also affected are the early care and education labor market and practitioner compensation.
Increased coherence in the content and process for meeting individual qualification requirements would improve the caliber of educator practice within settings and across the B–8 education continuum. Raising education standards for early childhood educators (B–5) could also positively affect recruitment, retention, and compensation.
Similar issues exist for administrative leaders. Expectations are not aligned with their responsibilities to foster early learning and development. Current education and certification requirements and expectations for directors in early childhood settings outside of school systems are especially erratic.
To address concerns regarding program quality, early childhood (B–5) program accreditation systems and quality improvement efforts increasingly are being implemented to cultivate increased use of national program standards and qualification requirements.
Evaluation of Practice Quality
A growing number of states and programs use evaluation systems to determine quality and figure out how to increase it. These systems vary considerably in design and intent. For example, schools and programs use teacher evaluations to increase instructional skills and child outcomes by differentiating effective from ineffective instructional practice, and inform ongoing professional learning.
In states that have implemented evaluations of teacher practice quality, district expectations apply to all K–3 teachers who work in public school systems and often to early childhood-special education programs and pre-K teachers in state funded pre-K programs. Yet if teacher evaluation systems heavily incorporate data from student test scores (a controversial trend across K–12 schooling), large questions arise about the most appropriate way to evaluate teaching in the early elementary grades.
High-stakes use of assessment results for children from B–8 is strongly discouraged unless an explicit connection exists between a test’s stated purpose and its validity and reliability in relation to that purpose. Children ranging in age from B–8 learn in ways that differ from the learning of their older peers. Consequently, instructional strategies and interactions that work well for children in this age span differ from those that are effective and meaningful for older children. Further, the younger the child, the more difficult it is to obtain reliable and valid assessment data.
Evaluation of Program Quality
Quality assurance systems in the B–8 field include accreditation systems and quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). Their intent is to foster environments that are good for children, which in turn should mean that they are ensuring that workplace environments promote quality practice among care and education professionals. These quality assurance efforts have the potential to positively affect individual educators’ knowledge, skills, and behaviors. But they need to offer more than checklists and instead hone in on practices and provide opportunities for reflection and continuous improvement.