How Qualified is Your Child's Pre-K Teacher?

May 27, 2015

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its 2014 Preschool Yearbook, and the findings were steady, but far short of stellar. The annual report—which tackles a number of critical measurements, including access, funding streams, and quality—provides a snapshot of our current patchwork system of early education providers. However, the most interesting thing about the report may not be about our youngest learners, but who is teaching them. 

Though the report’s major findings center on funding for the purpose of increasing access, I question whether we should buy into the assumption that merely access to a preschool classroom, any classroom, is what our children need. What about the quality of education our tiny tots receive once they’re inside the construction paper and glitter glue-filled classrooms? And more importantly, what qualifies someone to be entrusted with the minds of our precious little ones?

The answer, in some cases, is not much. The current credentialing requirements for early childhood educators vary from state to state and program to program, with little consistency. For classroom aides, some states require little more than a high school diploma and clean fingerprints. For teachers, more than half of the programs evaluated require Pre-K teachers to hold a Bachelor’s degree.

But without a consistent understanding across the education system of what skills and competencies these degree-holders are expected to have, what does that really tell us? Furthermore, does a B.A. or early education credential magically turn someone into a great teacher? It appears clear that while we may widely agree on the importance of early education, we’re not doing much to ensure those with the most influence are of the best quality.

For classroom aides, some states require little more than a high school diploma and clean fingerprints. For teachers, more than half of the programs evaluated require Pre-K teachers to hold a Bachelor’s degree.

One way to improve teacher quality is through the use of supply chain management principles. In the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s white paper Managing the Talent Pipeline, A New Approach to Closing the Skills Gap it is suggested that employers—as end customers—should research and map where their best employees come from (training programs, colleges, etc.) and do their best to increase hiring from these preferred providers. 

Rather than turning all employees into widgets where X number of credentials yields Y number of theoretical employees, businesses can be armed with the right information about what makes a great employee for them and share that knowledge with the schools, training programs, and individuals that want to work for that business. Why couldn’t this approach work for schools or schools systems as they look to recruit the best teachers to teach at all levels?

Early education classrooms have the potential to be on the cutting edge of workforce development. By schools and districts taking the lead to vocalize needs, and partnering with the prep programs that are developing the best early childhood educators, other programs might take notice and raise the bar in their own programs. 

This is not to undermine NIEER’s conclusions, as data suggests increased Pre-K access has the ability to help thousands of children. But, quantity should not usurp quality, and with talent supply chains, it doesn’t have to. Because if there’s any job that should be performed by the best of the best, shouldn’t it be the teachers who are first in line to shape the minds of our next generation?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie Winslow is associate manager of programs at the Center for Education and Workforce.