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Head Start Teachers for Migrant Kids Have Education Barriers

Head Start teachers from Native American or migrant communities have a lot of linguistic and cultural expertise but they also tend to lack formal education credentials, a white paper released this week by the Academy for Educational Development says.

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 requires that by October 2011 all Head Start teachers must have at least an associate's degree in early childhood education or a related field. The white paper says that migrant and seasonal and American Indian/Alaska Native Head Start programs are a long way off in meeting that goal. Only 58.6 percent of teachers in Head Start programs serving Native Americans have at least an associate's degree. For teachers in migrant or seasonal Head Start programs, that percentage is 51.2 percent. On average, for all Head Start programs, 83 percent of teachers have the required educational credential.

The paper gives a number of reasons why it's hard for Head Start teachers serving the most vulnerable students to get formal credentials. Many don't live close to higher education institutions, for example. Many also lack proficiency in English, which makes it challenging to take college-level courses, the report says.

What can be done to overcome some of the barriers these Head Start employees face in getting more education? The white paper recommends college curricula and instruction that stresses the teaching of language along with content. It calls as well for targeted financial aid that accounts for the teachers' non-traditional schedules and needs. And the teachers might benefit from the development of more distance-learning courses, the white paper says.

This is the first report I've seen focusing on the education of Head Start teachers particularly in migrant and Native American communities. A recent federal study on the impact of Head Start programs on children's learning examined the quality of Head Start programs overall.

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