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Preschool Teaching Programs Too Diffuse, Unfocused: Analysis

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By guest blogger Christina Samuels. This item originally appeared on the Early Education blog.

A worryingly small number of college programs that train students to become early-childhood educators actually focus on the important parts of early childhood—such as building a language foundation, teaching early math skills, or helping children learn how to regulate their own behaviors.

Instead, said an analysis of preschool teacher-preparation programs conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the programs tend to give short shrift to early learners while focusing most of their attention on skills needed for grade-school teachers. That's because most of the programs offer certification that lumps preschool in with a wide range of other grades. The higher the grades covered under the program, the less likely that it will focus on skills that are specific to the preschool classroom, said the NCTQ. 

In previous years, the NCTQ has analyzed traditional, university-based teacher programs and alternative teacher-certification programs. Those reports have garnered controversy because they relied primarily on a review of course descriptions, student-teaching handbooks, required textbooks, and other documents that a program uses, as opposed to direct observation. 

The NCTQ used a similar methodology in analyzing programs for early educators. It looked at 100 programs in 29 states, most of which offered bachelor's or master's degrees. Among the findings:

  • 1 in 3 required a course that helps train educators in how to teach early science concepts
  • 4 in 10 required a course in preschool math
  • Language and early-literacy courses rarely focused on the specific needs of 3- and 4-year-olds
  • Schools encouraged teacher candidates to train in preschools, but they didn't pay much attention to the quality of the experience.

Kate Walsh, the president of the NCTQ, said that programs that focus on a narrower range of early childhood seemed to do a better job at offering some of what the organization says are the building blocks to a good preschool preparation program. 

Unlike with the previous studies, the NCTQ did not call out preparation programs by name. But it did offer a resource aspiring teachers can use to evaluate preparation programs, as well as a detailed look at what it considers to be essential elements for a great early-education teacher prep program.

The NCTQ did not study programs that focus only on early educators, such as the child development associate credential. Bachelor's degrees currently have more cachet in the early-education field; for example, federal regulations stated that at least half of Head Start lead teachers must have bachelor's degrees by 2013 (as of 2015, 73 percent of Head Start teachers met that standard).

But programs that keep preschool front and center may have an edge, Walsh said. "There's definitely a point worth making that bachelor's and master's degree programs might be of lower quality because they're trying to do too much," she said. 

File Photo: Prekindergarten students read books on the carpet at Rising Stars APM Preschool in north Philadelphia.—Charles Mostoller for Education Week

Related stories:

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