Category Archives: Early Childhood Education

Equitable Access to Quality Credentials For Pre-K Teachers: What Would it Take?

As Marnie noted last week, there’s a heated debate going on in early childhood policy circles about whether or not educators who work with young children need higher education credentials. By focusing on whether or not early childhood educators should be required to complete existing higher education pathways — namely bachelor’s degrees and state teacher certification programs — this debate largely misses the point.

We know that early childhood teaching is skilled, professional work, and that early childhood teachers need to master a complex array of skills and knowledge about child development, effective instructional practices for young children, and effective strategies for engaging families and supporting children with learning and development differences, among other things. Anybody who’s seen a great preschool teacher knows that this is highly complex work. At the same time, we also know that the higher education landscape is shifting, and the types of degrees, credentials, and pathways to higher education that exist in the future might look very different from what we assume higher education looks like today.

The question, then, is how to envision future postsecondary education systems and supports that enable early childhood educators to obtain the knowledge and skills they need in a high-quality, cost effective way that meets the unique needs of current and future early childhood workers and leads to better practice and improved results for kids. These are questions that Kevin Carey, an expert on higher education innovation and now the Vice President of Education Policy at New America, and I explored together in a paper nearly a decade ago. And it’s the focus of a new paper, co-authored by Lisa Guernsey, Emily Workman, and myself, released jointly by Bellwether and New America today.cover of Pre-K Teachers and Bachelor’s Degrees: Envisioning Equitable Access to High-Quality Preparation Programs

Rather than trying to adjudicate the question of whether early childhood teachers should have degrees, the paper (which focuses primarily on pre-K teachers working with 3- and 4-year-olds in publicly funded settings) draws on interviews with experts in the field and a convening that New America and Bellwether co-hosted last fall to describe the strategies that would be required to increase the number of pre-K teachers with degrees, while ensuring the quality and accessibility of postsecondary programs for pre-K teachers; providing supports for current early childhood teachers to successfully complete postsecondary programs; and maintaining the racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the pre-K teaching workforce. The paper also surfaces six crucial areas and themes in need of further research and innovation in the field, including:

  1. More strategies to improve the quality of bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation programs for pre-K teachers
  2. More sophisticated approaches for defining the “early childhood specialization” of a bachelor’s degree program
  3. A deeper understanding of the implications of teacher licensure for pre-K teachers
  4. Reflection on how to motivate higher education institutions to revamp their programs
  5. Strategies for recruiting and retaining the next generation of pre-K teachers
  6. A continued push for improving compensation and workplace quality for pre-K teachers

We’ll be discussing these themes further at a forum at New America this afternoon, and on this blog, social media, and future Bellwether and New America publications in the coming weeks and months. I hope you join the conversation (and you can watch the forum streaming at New America here)!

Community Colleges Have an Important Role to Play in Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce

You may have noticed recent media attention focused on the issue of whether early childhood educators need college degrees. Proponents argue that degrees will lead to greater respect and compensation for early childhood educators and ultimately better results for children. Opponents argue degree requirements are unlikely to increase wages and will hurt the diversity of the early childhood workforce.

But no one is discussing the type of programs early childhood educators are likely to attend — let alone considering the quality of these programs.

Here’s what we know: most early childhood educators looking to obtain a degree attend community college. There are many reasons for this. Community college is affordable and attractive to early childhood educators juggling work and family responsibilities. Beyond practical reasons, early childhood educators attend community college because they have few other choices — the majority of early childhood degree programs in the U.S. are located at two-year institutions.

My new report, “It Takes a Community: Leveraging Community College Capacity to Transform the Early Childhood Workforce,” examines the critical role community colleges play in preparing early childhood educators, details the various challenges these institutions face in helping early educators obtain degrees, and identifies best practices that can address these challenges.

In the last three years since the National Academy of Medicine published “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through 8: A Unifying Foundation,” there has been increased interest in how community colleges can contribute to increasing the number of lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees. It Takes a Community offers recommendations for community college leaders, early childhood advocates, and policymakers seeking to maximize the potential of community colleges to support professional development and credential attainment for early childhood educators.

The paper highlights that any realistic discussion of transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the key role community colleges play in shaping the early childhood workforce. Ultimately, policymakers interested in transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the community college landscape and adopt a clear vision for the role community colleges will play in preparing and developing early childhood workers.

(For more discussion of these issues, tune into a livestream on Monday, February 26th of a panel discussion hosted by New America. I’ll be joined by Shayna Cook of New America, Kathy Glazer of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, Sue Russell, of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center, and Jeneen Interlandi of New York Times Magazine.)

What We Can — and Can’t — Learn From New Jersey to Improve Pre-K Teacher Training and Pay

teacher chalkboard word cloudShould pre-K teachers have degrees? A recent New York Times Magazine article looks at both some of the challenges facing early childhood teachers and the debate over whether or not policymakers should raise education requirements for them. I explored these issues further last week in U.S. News & World Report — but I also wanted to comment on the Times piece’s coverage of New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program.

Times author Jeneen Interlandi highlights New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program, which both requires all pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and pays them comparably with public school teachers. This practice is in sharp contrast with the norm of low education requirements and pay in many other early childhood settings. A little background here: In the 1990s, a court first ordered New Jersey to offer universal pre-K to three- and four-year-olds in thirty-one high-poverty districts and, later, to ensure that teachers in those pre-K programs held both a bachelor’s degree and state certification. As Interlandi argues, the strategies New Jersey used to meet that requirement offer lessons for other efforts to elevate the skills and training of early childhood teachers.

Yet, as someone who’s studied New Jersey’s Abbott program, I fear that the article misses some key points about it that have implications for what policymakers can take away here:

1. Pre-K is pretty much the only part of the Abbott program with evidence of demonstrable, lasting benefits. New Jersey’s Abbott preK was the result of the long-running Abbott v. Burke school finance litigation. Besides mandating pre-K, various Abbott decisions required the state of New Jersey to increase spending in poor districts, repair school facilities and reduce overcrowding, and cover costs of supplemental services to address the needs of children in concentrated poverty. Billions of dollars have been spent on these efforts. Yet there is no clear evidence that they resulted in improved outcomes for students in high-poverty. Abbott Pre-K, however, is the exception.

Interlandi writes: “Abbott studies show fade-out effects, albeit less significant ones than in many other preschool studies.” This statement, while technically correct, underplays the evidence of Abbott pre-K’s results. Research shows that Abbott children made meaningful gains in pre-K — and that a portion of those gains persisted through at least 5th grade.

Interlandi is correct that the magnitude of Abbott pre-K advantage diminished over time, as some degree of fade-out is to be expected over time from any intervention. And, in the context of the Abbott results (or lack thereof) more broadly, the Abbott pre-K results are quite striking. Put another way, the Abbott pre-K results, combined with other evidence on quality early childhood programs, suggest that a marginal education dollar is more likely to generate results if spent on pre-K than if simply added to general education budgets.

2. New Jersey’s pre-K program is expensive — but so is education in New Jersey generally. Interlandi reports that New Jersey spends about $14,000 per child on pre-K — more than double the typical state spending on pre-K. The implication is that requiring pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree is really expensive. Continue reading

Best in Bellwether 2017: Our Most Read Publications and Posts

Below are the most read posts from Ahead of the Heard and our most read publications in 2017! (To read the top posts from our sister site,, click here.)

Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2017

1.) Anything But Equal Pay: How American Teachers Get a Raw Deal
By Kirsten Schmitz

2.) Exciting News
By Mary K. Wells

3.) Some Exciting Hires and Promotions
By Mary K. Wells

4.) Where Are All The Female Superintendents?
By Kirsten Schmitz

5.) An Expanded Federal Role in School Choice? No Thanks.
By Juliet Squire

6.) Teacher Turnover Isn’t Always Negative – Just Look at D.C. Public Schools’ Results
By Kaitlin Pennington

7.) Georgia Addressed Its Teacher Shortages With This One Trick
By Chad Aldeman

8.) A Day in the Life: Bellwether Analyst Andrew Rayner [Andrew’s now over at Promise54!]
By Heather Buchheim & Tanya Paperny

9.) Welcoming Our New Senior Advisers
By Mary K. Wells

10.) How Will States Handle New Title I Powers with Minimal Federal Oversight?
By Bonnie O’Keefe

Top Five Publications & Releases from Bellwether in 2017

1.) An Independent Review of ESSA State Plans
Chad Aldeman, Anne Hyslop, Max Marchitello, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, & Kaitlin Pennington

2.) Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century
Jennifer O’Neal Schiess & Phillip Burgoyne-Allen

3.) Michigan Education Landscape: A Fact Base for the DeVos Debate
Bonnie O’Keefe, Kaitlin Pennington, & Sara Mead

4.) Voices from Rural Oklahoma: Where’s Education Headed on the Plain?
Juliet Squire & Kelly Robson

5.) The Best Teachers for Our Littlest Learners? Lessons from Head Start’s Last Decade
Marnie Kaplan & Sara Mead

To hear more, you can always sign up here to get our newsletter. Thanks for following our work in 2017!

Supporting Teachers and Leaders in Minnesota and Beyond

Minnesota is a fascinating place when it comes to education. Student populations are increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse, especially in the Twin Cities. Overall child outcomes have been historically high relative to national averages, but wide and persistent achievement gaps reveal unacceptable disparities by race, ethnicity, immigration status, and income. Local education leaders, funders, and advocates are increasingly seeking change in policy and educational programs. In this environment, it’s interesting to zoom in on work happening at a local level, to identify lessons that can be applied elsewhere in Minnesota, and in other schools, states, and cities.

Today we release Supporting Minnesota Educators, a new website from Bellwether Education Partners. This project began by looking at the McKnight Foundation Pathway Schools Initiative, which aimed to improve pre-K to third grade reading outcomes in seven schools in Minnesota’s Twin Cities via formative assessments, educator professional development, and leadership supports for principals. McKnight and its partners began with bold ambitions to support significant improvements in student learning, but those gains haven’t materialized in most participating schools. These results show how complicated school improvement work can be, and also point to how policymakers can better set schools and principals up for success.

In examining evaluation results and speaking with initiative stakeholders, we found three key lessons that can inform future efforts:

  1. Foster stability among educators and leaders to allow for instructional and school culture changes to take hold
  2. Build leadership teams in schools focused on improving teaching and learning
  3. Improve training for educators so they have the knowledge and skills to provide excellent instruction for all students

Supporting Minnesota Educators expands on all three of these lessons, and brings together results from the Initiative with national research and resources. The website will also serve as a home for more resources to come on these topics in the year ahead – you can sign up for updates here. I hope this website will be a helpful resource for leaders, teachers, and advocates and generate conversation about pre-K to third grade and school improvement in Minnesota and elsewhere.