Curriculum

Many Pre-K Teachers Lack State-Mandated Training, Study Reveals

By Linda Jacobson — May 10, 2005 3 min read
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Public pre-K teachers often lack the training or degrees that their states require, and one-fifth of them are working second jobs to pay their bills, according to a study unveiled last week that provides the first detailed profile of states’ preschool teachers.

Read the report, “Who’s Teaching Our Youngest Students?,” from The National Institute for Early Education Research.

In nine states, more than 10 percent of the prekindergarten classrooms are led by teachers who are out of compliance with state credential requirements. And although only four states—Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Washington—mandate that assistant teachers hold a child-development-associate credential, only half the assistants in those states have earned that certificate.

Led by Walter S. Gilliam, a psychologist and the director of the Edward Zigler Center for Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, the study is the first to examine how pre-K laws are being implemented.

Lower-End Salaries

While many pre-K programs have been launched with the aim of producing the same educational and social benefits of a few small, high-quality demonstration child-development programs, Mr. Gilliam says that based on the findings of his research, states shouldn’t expect to see outstanding results.

“We do know that programs that are implemented in the real world don’t get the same level of impacts that you get from model programs,” he said last week during a telephone news conference.

The study also shows that most pre-K teachers in the country—71 percent—are earning salaries that would put them in the low-income category when compared with federal poverty guidelines. Teachers in the Northeast post the highest average salary, at about $31,000 a year, while those in the Western states average about $24,000. According to state-by-state data, however, most pre-K teachers are not the only wage earners in their families.

The mostly descriptive report, “Who’s Teaching Our Youngest Students?,” is the first of several that will be released from the National Prekindergarten Study, which identified more than 40,000 pre-K classrooms in 40 states and includes data on a representative sample of more than 4,800 classrooms.

The study is also one of a growing number of attempts to gain a clearer understanding of what is happening inside public pre-K programs, which have expanded rapidly over the past 20 years.

A Lack of Evidence?

Of the 52 state pre-K programs the Yale study examined in 40 states, 16 require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate, and five require just a bachelor’s, which many experts recommend for preschool teachers.

“If we are going to consider this part of our pre-K-through-12 system, then the teachers should look like K-12 teachers,” Mr. Gilliam said.

Read the Policy Analysis for California Education study, “How to Expand and Improve Preschool in California: Ideas, Evidence, and Policy Options”.

But in a second study released last week, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University warn that the push to require a four-year degree for pre-K teachers is not supported by solid research.

The study, which offers a harsh critique of some current plans to launch “universal” preschool programs, targets the universal-preschool ballot initiative in June 2006 in California sponsored by the actor and director Rob Reiner, because it would require teachers to earn a bachelor’s.

But the Berkeley-Stanford researchers say such a standard is “very expensive and yields no consistent improvement for young children when compared to those kids whose teachers have two-year degrees and training in child development.”

The researchers, led by UC-Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller, also recommend that state policymakers base public preschool programs in both schools and community-based centers, and they argue that there is no proof that children learn more in school-based programs than they do in other settings.

Instead of opening programs to all children, regardless of family income, states should use their limited funds to serve lower-middle-class families that don’t qualify for subsidies but can’t afford private programs either, the authors say.

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