Expanding Pre-K Opportunities and Teacher Quality: Are both Possible?

Written by: Dave Reid

Primary Source: Green & Write, December 1, 2015

Expanding the educational opportunities for Pre-K students has been a focus of states and policymakers for the past several decades. President Obama and his administration doubled down on this investment by supporting programs and states to provide high-quality Pre-K programs to all young learners. As was written earlier on Green & Write children who are attend Pre-K schooling often see positive academic and life benefits, such as increased academic achievement and lower school dropout rates.

While there is little doubt expanding educational opportunities to young learners is something that can help the education system as a whole, one question remains as the number of Pre-K classrooms increases: Who are the teachers filling these classrooms?

Photo Courtesy of NiscECC

Photo Courtesy of NiscECC

The California Case

California is a good case to study when looking at the impacts of expanding Pre-K opportunities for students because the state has seen unprecedented growth of Pre-K schools in recent years. As the number of students enrolling in these programs continues to increase, organizations have begun to focus on who is staffing these classrooms. A report by the New America Foundation found that Pre-K teachers in California are not adequately trained to deliver high-quality learning opportunities, particularly for the state’s growing Hispanic population. The report calls for better Pre-K teacher training programs and for Pre-K programs to incorporate the best and latest research on quality Pre-K instruction.

Additionally, this report notes that Pre-K teachers in California lack a common set of “core competencies” and access to the latest cutting-edge research that informs how young learners are best taught.

Since this report was issued, other states, including New York, have acknowledged the challenges in training a rapidly increasing Pre-K teacher workforce.

(Part of) The Problem

It is difficult to encourage teachers to enter the Pre-K teaching profession due to low wages. The average preschool teacher salary in California is $24,000. Not only does this low salary make teaching Pre-K unappealing to many potential candidates, this low compensation makes it difficult, if not impossible, for these teachers to pay to return to school and update their skills to provide children with the best learning experience possible.

Another part of the problem is many of California’s early childhood associate degrees are granted through California’s community college system, which are not accredited programs by the National Association for the Education of Young Children – the group who sets the benchmarks for quality early childhood courses and programs.

What Can Be Done?

With the growing consensus that high-quality Pre-K learning opportunities have the potential to increase a child’s future academic and life development, we must move beyond merely providing opportunities for Pre-K and focus instead on providing “high-quality” Pre-K experiences. Typically, “high-quality schooling” refers to high-quality teaching. Therefore, attracting quality professionals into these increasingly available positions needs to be a priority for policymakers and states.

An immediate fix is to pay these teachers reasonable wages, at least consistent with beginning K-12 teachers. Given the importance of early learning, it seems policymakers, states, and schools would want the best teachers in these classrooms and the reality is the current wage structure makes this challenging.

Expanding both the number of Pre-K classrooms and the quality of the Pre-K teaching force is possible, but policymakers and states must prioritize these important teaching positions and make them worth pursuing.

Contact Dave: reiddav1@msu.edu

The following two tabs change content below.
Dave Reid
Dave is a doctoral student in Educational Policy and Teacher Education. His current research interests include how teachers make sense of and interact with the policies they are asked to implement. Prior to returning to graduate school, Dave was a 7th and 8th grade special education teacher and also served as an instructional coach for elementary and middle school teachers. Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Franklin Pierce College and an M.Ed. in education from Arizona State University. - See more at: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/who-we-are/#sthash.DLSaPTbe.dpuf