In recent years, more state-sponsored early-childhood education programs have called on teachers to obtain four-year degrees and additional training. But a study released this month raises some key questions about what is known about the quality of these teacher preparation programs.
“The research suggests that we don’t know what a high-quality, early-child program looks like, so there’s no guarantee that if an early educator goes through a degree program that it will improve their practice,” said Ashley LiBetti, an associate partner with Bellwether Education Partners and the author of the study, “Let the Research Show.”
LiBetti argues that early-childhood, teacher-preparation programs are operating in the dark when it comes to basic information such as best practices where program content and design are concerned.
“We can’t tell [teacher-preparation programs] what a high-quality, early-childhood preparation program looks like, so they don’t have a model,” said LiBetti. “The research that does exist doesn’t tell them anything about what their program itself should look like, so we’re abandoning programs to do the best they we can. But we need to provide the research to help them to do that.”
The study suggests that a good place to start might be in examining in-service professional development, an area where more research has been conducted.
The study also acknowledges the work of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment and the National Council on Teacher Quality in researching the content of teacher-preparation programs. But it notes that their work doesn’t go far enough to really help programs improve because the center and council’s work focuses on what teachers should know rather than what a program that delivers this information should look like.
While it might seem like focusing on whether preservice teachers are being taught what they should know and be able to do would be enough, LiBetti says more research is needed to paint a full picture.
“When we look at preparation research, we look generally at student outcomes, and there’s a step before that where we can look at the practices that a teacher has in the classroom, the competencies that they demonstrate,” said LiBetti. She argues that researchers should backtrack from there, to determine which preparation programs led to teachers demonstrating these skills.
Call for Cooperation
LiBetti recommends that programs and researchers work together closely to determine what type of research would be most useful as teacher-preparation programs look to improve. She also encourages different programs to work together by sharing information about what works.
The study notes that K-12 teacher-preparation programs also suffer from a lack of research into program effectiveness, and LiBetti says this provides the early-childhood field with a chance to learn from the mistakes that were made in K-12 preparation policy.
“That’s an opportunity in the policy world that doesn’t come around often, and should be very strategically leveraged,” said LiBetti. “It’s exciting, and we have to do it right.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.