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)!