Finding the Nuggets and Identifying White Noise: Making Sense of Recent Reports on Teacher Preparation
Looking for some summer reading to inform your thinking on how to advance the profession? Recent reports offer research, policy recommendations, and thought leadership about ways to advance the preparation of early childhood educators. Here are three for consideration.
The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) recently released Not So Elementary: Primary School Teacher Quality in Top-Performing Systems. The report shines a light on the complexity of preparing elementary teachers—often dismissed in U.S. policy and public arenas—and identifies common features in other educational systems that have led to better-prepared educators.
The report focuses on education systems—Finland, Shanghai, Japan, and Hong Kong—that have distinctly different contexts than the U.S.:
- They have centralized K-12 curriculum
- Their K-12 student populations (and their teacher candidates, for that matter) do not reflect the broad diversity of U.S. classrooms
- Most have fairly centralized teacher preparation systems
However, the lessons learned from them are deeply relevant for U.S. efforts to improve the preparation of elementary school teachers. These countries system’s feature:
- Attention to candidate selectivity (whether it is entry to or exit from preparation programs and/or entry into the profession
- Specialization in content (for candidates during preparation and as an organizing structure for elementary schools)
- Teacher preparation program content that includes a deep focus on content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and alignment with the elementary curriculum
- Professional development systems for teachers that reinforce and expand on preparation program content
What’s the Key Takeaway? In order to significantly improve elementary teacher preparation in the U.S., we need to incorporate a systemic approach that ties together the common features of the high-performing elementary teacher preparation systems identified in the report. A tall order, indeed, given highly decentralized U.S. elementary teacher preparation program systems, teacher licensure systems, and elementary school systems, but a vital order to fill.
Last spring, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) released Early Childhood Teacher Education Policies: Research Review and State Trends. The report highlights the importance of promoting the baccalaureate degree as the standard credential for early childhood educators and examines the research, policies, workforce conditions, and other factors that serve as barriers to and reality checks and supports for advancing this goal. The report provides a generous range of early childhood educator preparation policies—based on a review of several states’ policies. Not surprisingly, it found wide variation across states in the required education credentials for early childhood educators and in state capacity to increase the number of early childhood educators with baccalaureate degrees. It also examined early childhood finance structures and the impact they have on education credentials. CEELO identified several different policy mechanisms that states are using to improve the quality of early childhood education credentials and to support educators in advancing their credentials.
What’s the Key Takeaway? Raising the level and quality of early childhood educators’ education credentials is complex and necessary, and should be undertaken through a systemic approach. Policy efforts in this arena must recognize that wages and working conditions in early childhood settings are inextricably linked to the pursuit of (and quality of) education credentials.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently released Some Assembly Required: Piecing Together the Preparation Preschool Teachers Need. Any NCTQ report on teacher preparation should be considered with a huge grain of salt, given the problematic research methodology (as noted here and here) the organization uses and its predictable negative conclusions about the state of teacher preparation programs. As with other NCTQ reports, it evaluates only a small fraction of preparation programs—in this case, only 5% (or less) of early childhood education degree programs at the associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degree levels—and uses NCTQ’s signature “research” methodology: a document review of syllabi, handbooks, and student observation templates. The focus of this report is on how higher education is preparing candidates for some of the knowledge and skills essential to develop in early childhood educators—such as understanding child development, having a strong literacy foundation, and understanding and introducing early math and science concepts. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t examine the preparation of early childhood educators in other necessary and significant areas of knowledge and skills—such developing strong relationships with families and communities, having a strong grounding in assessment and appropriate instructional practices, and developing the early childhood educator’s professionalism (these happen to be cornerstones of NAEYC’s Professional Preparation Standards).
What’s the Key Takeaway? While the report is not a helpful examination of the quality of early childhood teacher preparation programs, it does provide a window into some of the content found in early childhood programs and rightly points to wide variations in content.
NAEYC recognizes that there is much work to be done to strengthen the early childhood workforce, but the good news is that there are efforts within NAEYC (such as its higher education accreditation and recognition systems and the Power to the Profession initiative) and beyond to address this. It is important to celebrate the field’s progress to date and to continue to use the best of what we are learning from practice, research, and policy to improve the preparation of early childhood educators. This work is essential to our shared goal: that all young children have access to a high-quality early childhood education.
Mary Harrill is Senior Director of Higher Education at NAEYC and a food consumer and experimenter extraordinaire in her off-time.