Pre-K Teachers: Ensuring Access to High-Quality Bachelor’s Degrees

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

On January 26th, New America held an event highlighting the publication of the report Preparing Pre-K Teachers: Envisioning Equitable Pathways to High-Quality Bachelor’s Degrees and creating a space for discussion of the report’s findings. Early childhood education (ECE) is an important phase for cognitive, behavioral, and social development in a child’s life and has been emphasized in recent conversations about the District’s educational landscape, including the February 27th public oversight hearing for Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Thus, early childhood educators have a crucial function; however, the industry is deprofessionalized and the effectiveness of existing higher ed programs are questionable. Therefore, New America and Bellwether Education Partners posit that “the training that pre-K teachers have, and the compensation they receive, often don’t match the complexity or importance of their work.”

These questions are all highly connected to each other. Unfortunately, as noted by the Director of Early & Elementary Education at New America Laura Bornfreund, 75% of ECE teachers make less than $15/hour. This means they are worried about paying rent and putting food on the table, not about allocating resources or time to higher education. This is especially true as the typical ECE worker is first generation, minority, low income, and female. In the fight for higher wages, Rhian Evans Allvin, the CEO of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC), emphasized that we must be careful not to “whiten the workforce” in the progress, or that reforms don’t disproportionately benefit white individuals. Otherwise, we are preparing students for under-paying jobs. The report cited several strategies as possible means for reform:

  • Improving Access and Completion
    1. Advising services
    2. Flexible scheduling
    3. Creating stackable credentials and articulation agreements
  • Building on Non-traditional Instructional Models
    1. Competency based
    2. Online education
  • Creative with scholarships and financing
    1. TEACH scholarships in 20+ states
    2. Federal aid
    3. Loan Forgiveness in Tulsa, OK
  • Revamping Coursework and Field Experience
    1. Use latest research to improve quality
    2. Job-embedded Approaches
      1. i) Apprenticeships
    3. Observation tools
  • Recruiting the Future Workforce
    1. High School coursework
      1. i) Dual enrollment
      2. ii) Embedded CDA programs

The panel was then introduced as a means to discuss the report’s findings. The panel consisted of Shayna Cook, a Policy Analyst at New America; Marnie Kaplan, a Senior Analyst at Bellwether Education Partners; Kathy Glazer, President of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation; and Sue Russell, Executive Director of T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center. It was moderated by Jeneen Interlandi, a writer for New York Times Magazine. The panelists focused on themes like motivation under stress, program quality, affordability and accessibility.

The inability of an ECE degree or job to support a family was an important topic. An ECE degree has the lowest lifetime earnings out of 137 majors surveyed. Furthermore, while online degree programs have the benefits of flexibility and accessibility, especially to rural communities, they are often expensive and lack a support system for the individual. Students may not have access to up to date devices or high speed internet, and they must be self motivated to achieve without the support of classmates, advisors, and professorial relationships.

By requiring bachelor degrees, the panel hopes employer buy in would increase and get them involved with programs like TEACH. Some employers might even be able to use these programs as a recruitment tactic. During the Q+A, when one individual asked about teacher motivation for participation on top of professional and personal responsibilities, the panelists claimed that college is the dream for many individuals and that the question relies more on affordability, motivation, and support. Many women work this overtime to act as a role model and support their communities. According to one study mentioned, over 40% of ECE teachers are depressed, with turnover rates in ECE centers skyrocketing above 50%. With these statistics, the question of wellbeing must be included in the push of higher qualifications. Paid release time is one solution to this quandary. By paying teachers for time out of the classroom whether in class or with their own children, these teachers pushing for a greater quality education for themselves and their students can achieve greater work life balance.

Although the report and corresponding discussion were meant to have a general, nationwide perspective, many of these problems and solutions work well within the District’s context and should be considered in conversations going forward. ECE policy must not only consider facilities and licensure, as was prominent in the recent OSSE oversight hearing, but teacher qualifications and how to create opportunities for those ECE teachers already in the system.

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