Today, the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative released a report that highlights problems nationwide with the licensing and preparation of teachers who work with young children in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classrooms. The report, "Getting in Sync: Revamping Licensure and Preparation for Teachers in Pre-K, Kindergarten and the Early Grades," shows that today's system is not set up to ensure teachers in pre-kindergarten through the third grades are well-prepared to work with young children.
The quality of the instruction that children receive in pre-kindergarten through the third grade (PreK-3rd) can make a lasting impact on how well they perform throughout their years in school. Because children in these grades are still developing foundational skills, their teachers need preparation that is different from what is required of their late-elementary school counterparts. Teachers at all grade levels, the report says, must be equipped with knowledge and skills that show a deep understanding of how children develop, but this is especially critical for PreK-3rd teachers. These instructors must learn about the science of early-childhood development (including a focus on social-emotional growth) and family engagement, as well as gain experience in how to provide effective instruction in subjects such as early science, early literacy and the building blocks of mathematics.
Among the problems discussed in the report are:
- Preparation, licensing and hiring systems are not currently designed to produce and place teachers in early grade classrooms who have a strong understanding of child development.
- Teacher preparation programs have weak admission requirements for prospective teachers and offer them little opportunities to gain practical experience with children in the younger grades.
- Teachers who obtain elementary school licenses may not be as well-prepared to engage families and use playful learning techniques with younger children while introducing them to new content.
- Only 14 states require kindergarten teachers to obtain a license with a focus on the early grades.
The report also points to promising practices worth a closer look – such as an "immersion-style" program in Arizona and license restructuring in Pennsylvania to reduce grade-level overlap – and makes 15 recommendations to ensure better preparation of PreK-3rd teachers. For example, it suggests that states separate licenses to avoid overlap in the early grades; eliminate personnel policies and practices that limit principals' options in assigning specific teachers to classrooms; require approved early-childhood preparation programs to provide multiple field experiences that are woven into courses on content and methods, classroom management and child development; and consider aligning standards for early-childhood teacher preparation programs with standards designed by national early-childhood education organizations.