A number of studies have found that young children in classrooms led by early educators with BA degrees and training in early childhood demonstrate better outcomes than children in classrooms led by teachers with less education and training. Now, in a new brief from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Marcy Whitebook and Sharon Ryan urge a more complex and nuanced look at the ingredients of early educator preparation.
“While focusing on whether or not teachers need a BA or an AA appears to be a straight-forward policy question, the debate has reduced a complex issue to a narrow question failing to take into account the precise nature of the training that teachers have received en route to their degrees, and the effects of the workplace environment on their teaching practice, or to consider the connection between adult and child well-being,” Whitebook and Ryan write in “Degrees in Context: Asking the Right Questions about Preparing Skilled and Effective Teachers of Young Children.”
“To realize a new vision for young children – highlighting the importance of nurturing, structured, age-appropriate early education as a solid foundation for lifelong learning – requires connecting what we expect in terms of teacher competencies and education qualifications with the quality of the environments in which teachers live, learn, and work…. Higher educational qualifications and more professional development to improve performance have been largely decoupled from attention to the work environment or the pay of teachers, issues too often viewed as secondary to addressing the needs of young children.”
Whitebook is the director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley. Ryan is an associate professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education and a NIEER research fellow.
The two make a series of recommendations. Here are a few highlights:
“Resources and policies should be directed toward:
- “Revamping the content and structure of higher education and professional development opportunities to include more practice-based opportunities and to integrate essential focus areas related to the latest brain research, language acquisition, with emphasis on dual language learners, cultural and economic diversity, and working with families and colleagues across disciplines and from varied cultures and communities….
- “Identifying and testing strategies to increase the compensation of professionals working with our youngest children.
- “Supporting professional development opportunities and work place practices that support ongoing on-the-job learning, such as access to adequate paid planning and meeting time, opportunity to visit other classrooms and programs, and access to a mentor or other professional expert…
- “Helping states develop, maintain, and expand longitudinal data systems, such as registries, that track workforce demographics and educational characteristics to identify challenges, track progress, and develop sound policies that address chronic problems like low wages, high turnover, and inadequate access to training and education.”
In conclusion, Whitebook and Ryan write, “Developing workforce strategies that address the well-being of teachers and that recognize teacher development as an ongoing process will ensure that children are not just taught by qualified teachers but by practitioners who are consistently supported and rewarded to enact the best possible education for all.”