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Little Training And Poor Pay Show How Much We Devalue Preschool Teachers

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

A new report reveals that teacher prep programs are failing preschool teachers and leaving them unprepared for their jobs.

When looking at 54 bachelor’s programs, 41 master’s degree programs, and five associate’s degree programs, 40 percent didn’t provide a course that was specific to teaching preschoolers, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality report.

Courses on early literacy and building language spent little time on information specific to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, and only 35 percent require child development courses look at development from birth to 8 years of age. When it comes to student teaching, 20 percent of the programs didn’t allow students to do student teaching in a preschool classroom.

The lack of training for preschool teachers shows how much society devalues the preschool teaching profession. This lack of respect for what preschool teachers do can also be seen through the low pay teachers receive. The median salary for a preschool teacher is $28,120, according to 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In comparison, the median salary for elementary school teachers is $56,830 and the median salary for middle school teachers is $57,620. So although the government required that 50 percent of Head Start teachers would have bachelor’s degrees by September 2013, pay hasn’t caught up to those expectations and the quality of those prep programs is still low for preschool teachers.

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Turnover is very high — the average annual turnover rate for early childhood teachers is 30 percent, a 2012 Washington State University paper found. Although compensation is a factor, lack of support from administrators and co-workers were cited as other possible factors.

“Wages have not kept pace with the science of early childhood.”

Katie Hamm, senior director for early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress, said there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to pay parity for pre-k teachers.

“After decades of brain research and program evaluations documenting long-term impacts of early childhood programs, we know that preschool is much more than babysitting,” Hamm said. “Unfortunately, wages have not kept pace with the science of early childhood. Several cities and states that have developed public preschool programs have created wage parity with public school teachers, which helps immensely. However, this is certainly not the norm yet.”

The population that teachers preschool is even more female-dominated than K-12 and more racially diverse. The lack of status for pre-k teachers may be linked to how it is even more likely to be seen as a caretaking profession than teaching elementary school, and caretaking professions are often low-paid and mostly female.

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Conor Williams, a senior researcher in the Early Education Initiative at New America who used to work as a preschool teacher, told ThinkProgress last fall, “If you really want to understand how policy folks are misunderstanding pre-k, say ‘Look, would you say this about a second grade teacher? Would you say this about a 6th grade teacher? Would you say this about a teacher at other ages?’ No, of course not.”

Williams has tried to fight that perception by pointing out that good pre-k teachers are responsible for developing “the communication, cognitive, social, gross, and fine motor skills to open opportunities for students and instill joy in lifelong learning.” That doesn’t seem like a small task, and yet, teacher prep programs are failing to adequately teach prospective early childhood educators how to do that.

The lack of quality training, support, and adequate pay are all important to note as researchers and policy analysts have debates over whether universal pre-k is actually beneficial. A paper released last year from the centrist think tank the Brookings Institution questioned the need for universal preschool, but in examining the need for preschool, it didn’t really examine the quality of education provided, critics said. High-quality preschool programs would provide many benefits to disadvantaged children, and yet, we haven’t invested in the teachers who could deliver that education.