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Better Educated Teachers Needed for Early Ed., Study Suggests

The early-ed initiative PreK Now, a project of the Pew Center on the States, just put out this report on early-childhood education and teacher preparation.

Studies suggest, it says, that teachers with bachelor's degrees and specialized training in early education are more effective than those educators who don't hold such credentials. In other words, it's not enough to be good with kids or to like working with them; teachers benefit from specific training.

Another finding: States are all over the map in terms of how much training they mandate. Some states require no more than a high school diploma, while others require a bachelor's degree, and in still others, it's a degree with special training or certification in elementary education.

The report recommends that states move toward requiring a bachelor's degree and specialized training in early education, and highlights some models for doing so. States should consider, for example, a tiered phase-in system to allow incremental progress in raising the number of educations with such credentials over time. Legislators did this in two successive iterations of the Head Start program to increase the number of teachers holding associates' degrees and ultimately, bachelor's degrees, for instance.

It also recommends creating stronger partnerships between universities and community providers to create avenues to early-ed certification and licensure.

Here's one question the report raised for me: How strong are the correlations between credentials and student learning? At least one research synthesis by the National Institute for Early Education Research seems to find that measures of classroom quality and the quality of teacher-student interactions were higher among more-educated teachers, but there's no effect size given in the report.

On a broader level, it's clear that early-ed program effectiveness is a difficult thing to measure. There are some real pitfalls in doing so, if you remember the fights over Head Start's National Reporting System. And there are many more domains of early-childhood development (emotional, social, cognitive, language, etc.) than there typically are in elementary and secondary education.

It's interesting to note that in the pre-K arena, there is a push toward more teacher training and credentials, particularly the bachelor's degree, whereas in elementary education, researchers are finding that credentials beyond a bachelor's don't seem to do much to improve teacher effectiveness.

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