NIEER calls for US ECEC field to “catch up” and supply licenced ECTs to lead preschool
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has used a newly published report to call attention to the importance and value of early childhood teachers (ECTs) when considering the key attributes of high quality early learning, and, in turn, the importance of ensuring these teachers receive strong pre-service teacher education.
The report will be of interest to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, not only for highlighting the issues noted above, but also for drawing attention to the differences of those teachers paid under the public system versus those working in profit driven provider situations, with similar points being noted by ECTs in Australia, particularly in light of the 2020 ECT requirement change.
The findings will also be of interest in light of commentary from the sector in relation to the disparity between teacher pay in preschool as opposed to primary school.
NIEER noted in the report that only about half of state-funded Pre-K programs (programs run for children in the year before Kindergarten) require lead teachers to have a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and specialised training in early childhood. Head Start raised teacher qualifications requirements in recent years, and 73 per cent now have a BA.
By contrast, NIEER said, well-known examples of preschool programs demonstrating strong long-term outcomes for children (e.g., Perry Preschool and Chicago Child Parent Centers) had teachers with BA degrees. More recent examples of large scale public programs with evidence of strong persistent impacts have all had licensed early childhood teachers with BA degrees, NIEER said.
“The entire field needs to catch up, but to do so in a way that retains the diversity of the early childhood workforce and supports it with adequate compensation.” NIEER added.
In a briefing paper in relation to the report, NIEER made the following six recommendations, in relation to the way in which preschool teacher qualifications may be improved:
Develop a qualification requirement that is specifically designed to provide preschool teachers with the knowledge and skills needed.
In doing so, NIEER said, this requirement would set uniform standards state wide to ensure all teachers are well prepared in alignment with the state standards for early learning and teaching.
These set out paths for new teachers and the existing workforce regardless of whether they start with no higher education, a two-year degree, a four-year degree, and a pre-existing qualification (that may be accepted with some kind of supplementary in-service coursework aligned with the new requirements).
Work with higher education to develop a coherent system that is well-articulated and meets the needs of the students (e.g., bringing evening courses to locations near them and including on-line options).
Provide the supports needed for the existing workforce to move quickly through the new preparation systems including guidance on navigating the system, assistance with federal student aid, additional 2 financial assistance for tuition and other costs (e.g., books), and pay for substitutes to facilitate attending classes.
Create a timeline that is feasible, phases in the requirement with a date certain for when it applies to teachers and allows for teachers to demonstrate adequate progress toward the qualifications as a condition for continued employment.
Provide adequate compensation for teachers in all settings who meet the qualifications. This requires pay and benefits parity with public ECTs having the same qualifications regardless of whether teachers are in public settings or private provider organisations. Otherwise, NIEER said, a two tiered system will be created that will continually drain the private sector of strong teachers.
Given the developing shortage of K-12 teachers (in the US), NIEER added “we can only expect this situation to worsen in the future.”
Scholarships for teacher preparation, bonuses, and other marginal increases in pay to recognise higher qualifications are not a substitute for adequate teacher compensation. In North Carolina, where such programs like WAGES that have now spread across the country originated, the gap between preschool teachers in public schools and private providers (all with BA degrees and an early childhood certification) is now $18,000.
State pre-K programs that serve children through private providers may find it more difficult to support pay parity unless pre-K is universal or funds providers by the classroom rather than by the individual child, NIEER said.
When some children in a classroom are funded by state pre-K but others receive no state funding or are funded at lower rates, it can be “difficult or impossible” to support teacher compensation parity with K-12 in the public schools.
Only by ensuring that all children in a classroom are adequately funded, can a state ensure that funding is sufficient to support stronger qualifications, the organisation said in closing.