Policies to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers continue to be a hot topic in education. Earlier this spring, the Early Education Initiative added to the chorus as well as provided new fodder with our paper “Getting in Sync: Revamping Licensure and Preparation for Teachers in Pre-K, Kindergarten and the Early Grades,” which focused on ensuring that the teachers who work with young children in kindergarten, first, second or third grade have the knowledge and skills they need.
Last week, I gave a presentation on that paper at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Professional Development Institute in Providence, R.I.
One of the big problems I mentioned was the structure of state teaching licenses. States usually issue a K-5 license to teach in elementary schools and an early childhood license that allows teachers to teach both pre-k and in the early grades of elementary schools. This overlap tends to create disparate preparation for teachers in the early grades. Prospective teachers who obtain an early childhood education degree and license are missing deep content knowledge in the subject areas like science and social studies. At the same time, those who obtain an elementary education degree and license are missing an understanding of how children learn new concepts and ideas and how to engage children’s families.
Here are a couple of examples of how that overlap causes problems. These quotations came directly from conversations with teachers who teach kindergarten, first, second or third grade children:
- “If you do the K-5 certification track in college, all the focus is for third grade and up. You'll barely touch kindergarten and first grade, which is dramatically different than learning about how to teach third graders.”
- “When I moved to kindergarten, I realized I had no idea how to teach children to read. My reading courses focused on building vocabulary and comprehension and on children’s literature.”
- “My elementary preparation program focused more on the older grades. I moved from 4th to 2nd and found that I didn’t have enough preparation in how to teach phonics. I also didn’t have any classes on the best ways to reach out and engage families.”
During my presentation, I asked the audience (made up of primarily faculty from two-year and four-year institutes of higher education) what they thought about the current licensing structure in their states: Did they agree with the recommendation in our paper for states to reduce the licensing overlap by shifting their Pre-k - 3rd and K-5 licenses to, for example, Pre-k - 3rd and 4th – 8th licenses?
Many people in the room agreed that the switch could allow preparation programs to provide a stronger focus on key topics like how to use hands-on and exploratory activities in way that helps children learn new and deepen their understanding of important concepts.
I’d be interested to your thoughts on the opportunities and challenges of revamping state licensure to reduce the overlap in the early grades and to align preparation more closely with children’s developmental spans instead of with the common grade level structures in public schools.
You can view my slides from my presentation at the NAEYC Professional Development Institute here.