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Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2000)

Chapter: 7	The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals

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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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7
The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals

THE HISTORY OF THE PREPARATION of teachers is as diverse as other aspects of early childhood programs. In the United States, there have been no state or national standards or certification processes for teachers of young children. Indeed, before 1965, few states included qualifications for teachers in their licensing standards. College-educated teachers attended liberal arts colleges or were enrolled in departments of home economics (Bowman, 1990) and had little course work in curriculum or pedagogy. More often, mothers with varying education drifted into the field, capitalizing on their past experience as mothers and caregivers.

While more attention has been paid to the skills and knowledge necessary for early childhood teachers in recent years, the field is still characterized by teachers with a minimum of training. There is a serious mismatch between the preparation (and the compensation) of the average early childhood professional and the growing expectations of parents and policy makers—expectations that this report will dramatically reinforce. Teachers of young children are being asked to promote high levels of achievement among all children, respond sensitively and appropriately to a wide array of diverse student needs, implement complex pedagogy, have a deep understanding of subject-matter disciplines, engage in serious reflection about their practices, and work collaboratively with colleagues and families.

Over the past century, learning goals for children have

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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changed, and instructional strategies have often failed to keep pace. A National Research Council study on developments in the science of learning (National Research Council, 1999) notes that “functional literacy,” which at the turn of the century referred to decoding simple or easily interpreted text, now is a measure of reading for information and analyzing and interpreting complex ideas. The new emphasis has vastly increased both the range and depth of knowledge expected of even young children, placing pressure on teachers and parents to pay more attention both to children’s capacity to learn new information and to the conditions under which they learn.

The knowledge and skills of teachers are among the most important factors in determining how much a young child learns. Studies in Texas, Alabama, and New York of K-12 teachers concluded that “teachers’ qualifications (based on measures of knowledge, education, and experience) account for a larger share of the variance in students’ achievement than any other single factor” (Darling-Hammond et al., 1999:228). What early childhood teachers know and are able to do is one of the major influences on the learning and development of young children. Clearly, the preparation and ongoing professional development of teachers in early childhood education and care is fundamental to the vision expressed in this report.

In this chapter, we discuss professional development and its relationship to program quality, the preparation of early childhood teachers, the variety of teacher education experiences and requirements, and research related to in-service education. Much of the literature reviewed here draws from the body of research on teacher development more generally. While the content of teacher knowledge and the nature of the responsiveness of teachers to their students distinguishes the preparation required of preschool teachers, in many respects their professional development is similar to that of teachers of older children. The principles of learning discussed in Chapter 5 (engaging and building on existing understandings, providing a deep foundation of factual knowledge within a conceptual framework, and stressing metacognition) must be effectively understood and deployed by all teachers, and the efforts to teach teachers at all levels must also incorporate those principles.

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The professional development of teachers has been shown to be related to quality of early childhood programs (Howes et al., 1992; Kontos et al., 1997), and program quality predicts developmental outcomes for children (see Chapter 5; Kontos et al., 1997; Vandell and Corasaniti, 1990). Formal professional education has consistently been linked to positive caregiver behaviors (Bollin and Whitehead, 1990; Espinosa, 1980; Fischer, 1989; Howes, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1998). Studies have generally found the strongest relationship between the number of years of education and the appropriateness of a teacher’s classroom behavior (Arnett, 1989; Berk, 1985; Clarke-Stewart and Gruber, 1984; Howes, 1997; Kontos et al., 1997; Ruopp et al., 1979). There is also research support for the proposition that education focused specifically on child development and early childhood education improves the performance of child care providers (Epstein, 1999; Ruopp et al., 1979; Kontos et al., 1997). The authors of Who Cares for America’s Children (National Research Council, 1990), concluded that, although both overall education and caregiver training specific to child development are related to positive outcomes for children, “the two existing national studies point to caregiver training as the more important factor” (p. 91).

The Florida Child Care Improvement Study (Howes et al., 1995) found that an increase in required professional preparation and in-service education for child care workers in Florida resulted in improved overall quality as measured by the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) as well as increases in teacher sensitivity and responsiveness (with accompanying decreases in teacher harshness and detachment). Classroom ratings of global quality and of teacher effectiveness (i.e., sensitivity, responsiveness, positive initiations, decrease in negative management, promotion of positive peer interaction) were most likely to improve when the teacher had at least a child development associate credential (or equivalent); the highest scores were obtained by teachers with a B.A. and advanced education.

Cassidy et al. (1995) studied the effects of college course work on caregiver beliefs and practices. They found that, after enrolling in an associate degree program in early childhood education or child development and completing 12–20 credit hours of com-

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

munity college course work, participants demonstrated significantly more developmentally appropriate beliefs and practices, as measured by the ECERS and the Teacher Beliefs Scale (TBS), than a comparison group that did not attend the college classes. The TBS assesses teachers’ beliefs about the importance of certain classroom practices, such as working silently, preparing written materials, and having time for free play. It was constructed and validated as an assessment of the extent to which the teachers’ beliefs about teaching are congruent with the principles of developmentally appropriate practice (Charlesworth et al., 1993b). Cassidy and her colleagues emphasized, however, that although they found improvements in practices and beliefs after the college course work, the majority of the courses completed by the participants (87 percent) focused on child development or early childhood methods content, thus explaining the correlation of years of education with course content.

The pattern of evidence in these studies, together with the evidence on early learning and the centrality of the responsive adult presented in earlier chapters, points out the need for major investments in teacher preparation and professional development to support new capacities in teachers of early childhood education. But in fact, early childhood centers spend considerably less than do elementary schools on the professional development of their teachers: elementary schools devote 3.6 percent of teachers’ work time to professional development, child care centers 1.3 percent, and Head Start 3.04 percent (Center for Early Childhood Leadership, 1999).

Teachers’ Thinking and Beliefs

Research on teaching effectiveness has shown that teachers have implicit beliefs about subject matter, their students, and their roles and responsibilities that significantly influence how they behave in the classroom (Ball and Cohen, 1996). Classrooms are complex environments with many overlapping interactions going on between adults, children, materials, and conceptual tasks. Teachers respond to this complexity by referring to their own store of beliefs, experiences, and priorities, establishing a teaching stance that gets the job done.

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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A number of studies have documented the importance of teachers’ unwillingness to accept research on teaching unless the information fits with their already formed beliefs; even then, they are more apt to adapt than to adopt new ideas (Kennedy, 1997). Teachers’ belief systems have been shown to be related to whether or not they successfully adopt new educational practices (Hollingsworth, 1989; Richardson et al., 1991). When a proposed educational practice is inconsistent with a teacher’s stated belief, the teacher has more difficulty adopting the proposed innovation. These finding are, of course, completely consistent with the learning research presented in Chapter 2 and described more fully in How People Learn: Mind, Brain, Experience, School (National Research Council, 1999). Just as it is necessary to work with children’s preconceptions in order to guide them to more advanced understanding, so adults’ prior conceptions need to be consciously engaged if they are to continue learning and improving in their occupations.

Views about teaching and learning are particularly deeply entrenched, and are developed, as Lortie (1975) describes it, during the apprenticeship of observation that occurs during the many years each of us spends in the classroom being a student. These early experiences as a student exercise a powerful influence on teachers’ beliefs about what it takes to be an effective teacher, how students learn best, and how students should behave (Clark, 1988; Nespor, 1987; Wilson, 1990). These basic beliefs, shaped by early experiences of being a student, have also been shown to be unrealistic, overly optimistic, and centered on teaching as a process of transmitting knowledge and of dispensing information (Brookhart and Freeman, 1992) that is at odds with contemporary research on cognition and learning. If early childhood educators are to develop a professional orientation based on knowledge, reflection, and analysis, it is critical that pre-service and in-service education directly address these memories of early experience and the resulting resistance to change (Lortie, 1975; Buchmann and Schwille, 1983).

In addition to the early experiences of the classroom that we all share, there are some broadly-held cultural attitudes that have an impact on the assumptions that shape the behavior of teachers. For example, one of the most powerful and pervasive atti-

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

tudes in the United States has to do with the notion of intelligence or IQ. Americans tend to approach learning through the lens of intelligence and thus see school performance as a reflection of native ability. In Japan, by way of contrast, the emphasis is on effort. There is strong evidence of the efficacy of effort and practice in the cognitive science literature (National Research Council, 1999, Chapter 2), but all too often the idea that intelligence is determinative is reflected in education policy and practice.

Teachers’ beliefs are also influenced by views of learning that derive from research, often as it is relayed in the popular press or school texts. Whether consciously or not, some teachers espouse what might be called the romantic view, which stresses the natural unfolding of development in the child. Others embrace the didactic view, an adult-centered approach in which the child is provided a well-structured sequence of lessons that transmit what the adult determines the child needs to know. Those who are versed in the more recent research may adopt a constructivist theory of learning, which emphasizes children’s strong propensity to gather information and construct ideas about how the world works as they engage the surrounding environment, or the related sociocultural approach, which proposes that children learn to construct ideas and ways of thinking primarily through social interactions with more knowledgeable peers and adults.

Although a specific theoretical perspective is seldom seen in pure form in practice, teachers often explain the rationale for their teaching style in terms of one or another of these developmental perspectives (Bereiter et al., 1970; Genishi, 1992). Some educators have emphasized the need for teachers to develop a single, coherent theoretical framework as opposed to an eclectic approach (Marcon, 1999); however, others have argued that a unifying theory of education that sums up all the phenomena of education is not likely to exist (Malaguzzi, 1993).

Research on the relationship between teachers’ stated beliefs and their observed teaching practices has been inconsistent and tied to some extent to the type of beliefs expressed. Early childhood teachers who accept behaviorist principles of development tend to employ teaching practices that are consistent with this belief, whereas teachers who express views based on the principles of developmentally appropriate practices (Bredekamp,

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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1986, 1995) display much more variability in their practices (Charlesworth et al., 1993a; Isenberg, 1990). Delclos et al. (1993) found that teachers’ theoretical orientation (DISTAR [Direct Instruction System for Teaching and Remediation] versus cognitively oriented) was influential in their interpretation of assessment reports on preschool children.

The biggest danger posed by a superficial understanding of learning research is that these theories of learning can easily be misunderstood to dictate particular methods of teaching. As the reading wars demonstrate, there is a strong propensity, when it comes to educating our children, for theory to change into ideology (National Research Council, 1998), a state that is antithetical to the kind of reflective practice that this report is intended to encourage. It is important that the education of teachers help them to develop the ability to reflect on their beliefs, and to cultivate the metacognitive capacities that will help them tailor their teaching strategies and approaches to the needs of their students.

Effective Teaching Strategies

The relationship between the goals of education and effective instructional strategy has received recent attention from the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning of the National Research Council (National Research Council, 1999). While much of the committee’s focus is on teaching older children, there are some relevant findings for teachers of preschool children as well. The committee stresses the importance of teaching for understanding, a strategy that requires teachers to familiarize themselves with what children have already learned in order to build on or correct prior knowledge. They also note the importance of knowing children’s personal and cultural background in order to accurately assess their learning and developmental accomplishments. The committee draws attention to the importance of teacher knowledge in framing lessons that are meaningful to children. They admonish against creating a false dichotomy between learning rote information and skills and learning to understand and think. Both types of learning are important and ideally occur together.

A number of different approaches have been used to study

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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teaching effectiveness. One group of studies has investigated the characteristics of effective early childhood teachers (Bloom, 1985; Katz, 1999). Bloom, for instance, studied the qualities most often associated with the first teachers of talented adults. During the early stages in the acquisition of high-level skills, he suggests that the teacher qualities to be desired are more social than cognitive or technical. He found the first teachers in his study liked children, made learning pleasant and rewarding for the children by using play activities, and set high standards for their students using positive reinforcement. In addition, the teachers’ relationships with the children’s families were friendly, and they enlisted parental cooperation to monitor children’s performance at home (p. 514).

Manaf (1994) identified teacher characteristics that appear to be related to teacher effectiveness, including warmth, enthusiasm, clarity, variety, individualization, feedback, and cognitive demand of tasks. There is no evidence, however, that these variables are valid across age groups or cultures. Cruickshank and Sheffield (1996), in a review of teacher effectiveness studies, identified a cluster of teacher behaviors that were associated with student learning: “clarity, variability, enthusiasm, task-oriented or business-like behavior and student opportunity to learn the criterion material” (p. 53). He then goes on to caution that while some of the teacher behaviors are effective regardless of the grade and ages being taught, others must be tailored to specific ages and grades.

Clark’s (1988) list of desirable teacher attributes includes such characteristics as the ability to plan and reflect, to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty, to think for themselves; making and correcting inferences about pupil performance; and using appropriate teaching techniques. He notes that it is only if things are not working that teachers are willing to examine their practice and accept new interpretations, new priorities, and new routines. “The teacher encounters a host of interrelated and competing decision situations both while planning and during teaching. There are no perfect or optimal solutions to these decisions. A gain for one student or in one subject matter may mean a foregone opportunity for others. Conflicting goals combined with endemic uncertainty about how to achieve designed outcomes can lead to knots in teachers’ thinking” (Clark, 1988).

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

In the field of early childhood education and care, the teacher characteristics identified as critical to teaching effectiveness have seldom been based on empirical studies of teachers (Saracho and Spodek, 1993; Spodek, 1996). Until the recent flurry of research focused on studying the implementation of developmentally appropriate practices, most recommendations about desirable teacher characteristics had grown from assumptions about what young children need. In 1949, Almy and Snyder suggested that teachers of early childhood education and care should have physical stamina, world mindedness, an understanding of human development, a respect for personality, and a scientific spirit. This list was updated by Whitebook and Almy (1986) to include patience, warmth, and ingenuity.

More recent empirical studies have found certain teacher behaviors to be associated with higher program quality and improved developmental outcomes for young children: indirect guidance, encouragement, responsive verbal interaction, sensitivity to children’s cues, and promotion of positive, prosocial behaviors (Berk, 1985; Howes, 1993, 1997; Whitebook et al., 1989).

Teacher Efficacy

Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998), in a summary of the research on teacher efficacy for teachers in second through twelfth grades, defined it as teachers’ belief in both their general and personal ability to affect the learning outcomes of students. They contend that these beliefs are constructed from teachers’ personal experience of teaching, their expectations or ideals about teaching, their inner state, their knowledge of subject matter, and the reinforcement they receive for their behavior from others. Teachers’ belief about their efficacy influences other behaviors, such as willingness to work and openness to new ideas, and affects not only school achievement but also social and emotional growth. Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998) also point out a body of research noting that efficacy is not a stable characteristic but responds to a host of context-specific factors in the school and in the population served. Given these findings, it is important to better understand the nature of efficacy for teachers of young children in early care and education settings.

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TEACHER EDUCATION

Early childhood teacher education is a patchwork of preservice and in-service education opportunities and credentials, characterized by varied state and local requirements across types of programs, auspices, and roles. Many states permit child care providers and preschool teachers to begin to teach without any professional preparation; others have preservice requirements that range from a week of orientation to four years of college. Inservice education is equally diverse, encompassing a variety of educational opportunities designed to hone professional skills or update professional knowledge, but it is most often characterized by poorly designed and uncoordinated workshops and conferences.

Preservice Education

Given the strong relationship between years of education and teaching effectiveness, consideration of professional (i.e., focused on early childhood content) education as distinct from years of schooling is important. Most early efforts to improve the quality of preschool education have stressed professional rather than advanced education. Some studies have shown “compelling evidence” (Ashton, 1996) of the superiority of teachers with professional education course work in promoting the higher achievement of school-age children. Graduates of teacher education programs drop out of teaching less frequently than teachers without such experience, suggesting that preservice professional education affects a teacher’s decision to continue teaching.

Although research focused on early childhood teacher education is sparse (Bredekamp, 1996; Ott et al., 1990), it is reasonable to draw implications from related research about how teachers of young children should be prepared. In the recent Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education devoted to teacher education (1999), Griffin argues that “teacher education is best accomplished when it is context-sensitive (rather than exclusively or mainly abstract and unconnected to real-life teaching and learning situations), ongoing (rather than sporadic and disconnected in its components), cumulative in its intentions (rather than having a set of features that do not lead to and build upon one another), reflective (rather than prescriptive and promoted as

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

a set of truths), and knowledge-based (rather than rooted solely in conventional wisdom and untested proposals)” (p. 16). In addition, some studies on early childhood preparation have found that teachers who chose a major related to child development were more likely to be positive and nurturing in their interactions (Layzer et al., 1993). Snider and Fu (1990) found that for early childhood education teachers, carefully supervised student teaching, in addition to course work in the following five areas, was related to the use of appropriate teaching practices: “planning, implementing, and evaluating developmentally appropriate content; creating, selecting, and evaluating materials; creating learning environments; curriculum models; and observing and recording behaviors” (p. 75).

In a recent commissioned paper for the National Institute on Early Childhood Development and Education, Isenberg (1999) argues that “Early childhood educators need to have a strong, high quality liberal arts background in order to be able to conceptualize learning experiences so that diverse learners find them meaningful” (p. 14). Early childhood professional preparation programs should have a strong grounding in the liberal arts and include professional course work in the areas of child development, curriculum, assessment, diversity, inclusion, and family relations as recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996). Isenberg then goes on to make seven recommendations about the content and structure of early childhood preparation programs, which include “that each state develop its own free-standing early childhood teacher license that includes a minimum of a baccalaureate degree. Such a change would recognize the specialized knowledge needed to work with children across the full spectrum from birth through age eight and better prepare early childhood educators for the variety of roles and settings that exist in both public and nonpublic settings” (p. 50).

The committee concludes, on the basis of evidence from the research on program quality combined with the research on teacher education, that a college degree with specialized education in child development and the education of young children ought to be required for teachers of young children. The relative importance of preservice education to eventual teaching effectiveness has been questioned by several researchers who studied

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

high-quality, intensive in-service models (Epstein, 1993; Layzer et al., 1993). However, the weight of the evidence and analysis of the tasks that early childhood teachers are expected to perform in quality early child care programs indicate otherwise. Moreover, research on the relative importance of preservice education for early childhood teachers has failed to take into account the bias that results if, as seems likely, the most talented teachers with college degrees choose higher-paying elementary teaching over preschool jobs.

In-Service Education

Many teachers feel that well-designed in-service programs greatly influence their ability to learn and implement improved teaching practices (Katz, 1999). The amount, scope, and quality of staff development offered to early childhood educators vary greatly from program to program and in their effectiveness. While there is some research suggesting that well-designed and implemented in-service education programs can lead to better results than preservice degrees (Epstein, 1993; Layzer et al., 1993), there is still enormous variability in the content, approach, duration, and impact of in-service programs. Epstein (1993), in an evaluation of a High/Scope trainer of trainers project, demonstrated that a well-designed, intensive, and theoretically coherent in-service program can significantly improve early childhood teachers’ practices and developmental outcomes for children. In a later study (1999), Epstein further examined the differences in teacher qualifications, in-service training, program quality, and children’s development in Head Start, public school, and private nonprofit preschool classrooms. In this study, she found that in Head Start only, in-service training was significantly related to program quality, whereas in the public school programs only, the amount of formal education was significantly correlated with program quality. This finding can be partially explained by the fact that the Head Start teachers received both more and higher-quality in-service training than teachers in the other two settings. Although the Head Start teachers were less likely to hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees than public school teachers (Epstein, 1999), they were more likely to have a degree in early childhood education with

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

specific course work in child development (Head Start Bureau, 1997).

The literature documenting the effects of in-service education on caregiver quality is mixed. On one hand, some research suggests that educating family child care providers can positively affect the global quality of care they provide (Howes et al., 1987). On the other hand, after reviewing the results of studies focused on family child care provider education, Kontos et al. (1992) concluded that evidence of positive change in caregiver knowledge, attitudes, and behavior would be weak if not nonexistent since most of the scant research that exists on family child care provider education has serious methodological limitations. The studies are typically quasi-experimental or correlational designs with no control group. The most frequently documented result is caregiver self-reported level of satisfaction, which is overwhelmingly positive.

Some of these methodological challenges are illustrated in the more recent work. Espinosa et al. (1999), for example, grappled with the difficulties of studying the effectiveness of an education program focused on child care providers in very small, low-income rural communities. In this study, 114 child care providers participated in a year-long education program that was individualized according to each caregiver’s needs and abilities and included both group workshops and on-site follow-through with specially designed materials. Quality was assessed with the ECERS and caregiver-child interactions were rated using the Caregiver Interaction Scale (CIS) (Arnett, 1989). Because it was not feasible to have a control group in such small communities, the analyses focused on pre-and post-training assessments. While recognizing that this design would not support strong causal inferences, the authors concluded that, in contrast to traditional classroom-based education programs, the individualized, comprehensive approach implemented…“was related to (emphasis added) meaningful and sustained improvements in both teaching beliefs and observed practices” (p. 28). Because of high attrition in the subject population over time, the long-term effects, while positive, are less clear.

In a study of urban providers in three states, Kontos and colleagues (1997) looked at the effectiveness of the Family to Family

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

training program. This study involved a group of providers, some of whom had had earlier training, and a comparison group of licensed providers. Outcome variables included overall quality and observational measures of provider behaviors. The effects of the intervention were at best modest; two of three sites showed small positive changes on the measure of overall quality, with no observable effects on provider behaviors, leading the authors to question the efficacy of training in workshop settings. Both of these studies support the conclusion that for in-service training to be effective, it must extend beyond a simple workshop format.

The school improvement and teacher education literature has revealed the difficulty in changing teacher beliefs and practices through in-service education (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991). It has been repeatedly demonstrated that in-service programs must go beyond the fragmented classroom-based approach in order to effect changes in practice. Bruce Joyce (1986) developed a “coaching” metaphor to illustrate the desirable trainer-trainee relationship. Galinsky and her colleagues (1994) have pointed out that although individualized, site-based coaching experiences are highly desirable aspects of provider education, they are rarely incorporated into early childhood education and care programs. Several researchers have concluded that successful in-service education must reflect the following characteristics: (1) opportunities to apply knowledge, (2) a continuous program of study, not one-shot workshops, (3) individualized delivery, (4) expert mentoring provided on-site, and (5) immediate feedback (Epstein, 1993; Klein and Sheehan, 1987; Venn and Wolery, 1992). For family child care providers, joining a professional network and thus decreasing feelings of isolation may be beneficial to caregivers (National Research Council, 1990), and frequent supervision can lead to improved interactions with children (Corsini and Caruso, 1989).

In addition, it has been pointed out that education content and delivery must be uniquely suited to the audience (Kontos et al., 1992). A “one size fits all” approach cannot be equally effective for a diverse group of participants. The education must be tailored to the needs, experience, prior education, and abilities of the participants. Epstein (1993) found that exemplary, in-house trainers, who emphasized active participation and sharing experiences, showed the highest levels of developmentally appropri-

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ate adult-child interactions and the most positive developmental outcomes.

Whitebook and her colleagues have argued that mentoring programs can effectively contribute to meeting the need for a skilled and stable child care workforce (Whitebook et al., 1994). In mentoring programs, the “older, more experienced person who is committed to helping a younger, less experienced person become prepared for all aspects of life” (Odell, 1990) is the avenue through which novices learn the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of their profession. These relationships have been found to be complex, highly personal, and potentially powerful influences for both the mentor and the apprentice (Hawkey, 1997).

A recent review of innovative approaches to improving child care in rural areas (Macro International, 1994) recommended several specific strategies. These researchers surveyed and visited four states—Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon— to identify promising practices in the use of the Child Care Development Block Grant to improve rural child care quality and availability. They recommended providing financial incentives to encourage provider participation, involving local community organizations to build trust, and supporting resource and referral agencies.

Clearly, all in-service education is not equally advantageous. Effective in-service education must be intensive, continuous, and individualized. Most child care education efforts have not included all of these recommended components. This may explain why their impact on practices and beliefs has been modest and equivocal in many studies.

SUMMARY

The demands to teach effectively a more diverse range of children to higher levels of performance are new to most early childhood education and care teachers. The knowledge and skills of teachers are among the most important factors in determining how much a young child learns.

The professional development of teachers has been shown to be related to quality of early childhood programs, and program quality predicts developmental outcomes for children. Studies have generally found the strongest relationship between the num-

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ber of years of education and the appropriateness of a teacher’s classroom behavior. One study (the Florida Child Care Improvement Study; Howes et al., 1995) found that classroom ratings of global quality and teacher effectiveness (i.e., sensitivity, responsiveness, positive initiations, decrease in negative management, promotion of positive peer interaction) were most likely to improve when the teacher had at least a child development associate credential (or equivalent); the highest scores were obtained by teachers with a B.A. and advanced education.1

Early childhood teacher education is a patchwork of preservice and in-service education opportunities and credentials, characterized by varied state and local requirements across types of programs, auspices, and roles. Although research focused on early childhood teacher education is sparse, it is reasonable to draw implications from related research about how teachers of young children should be prepared. The committee concludes, on the basis of evidence from the research on program quality combined with the research on teacher education, that a college degree with specialized education in child development and the education of young children ought to be required for teachers of young children. In addition, all early childhood teachers should have some course work focused on creating inclusive classrooms for children with special needs and children who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

Although there is some evidence that well-designed and implemented in-service education programs can lead to improved program quality, it has been repeatedly documented that the amount, scope, and quality of professional development provided to early childhood teachers is inconsistent, fragmented, and often chaotic. Effective in-service education must be intensive and continuous, with opportunities to apply knowledge and receive individualized feedback and mentoring in order to support improved teaching practices and positive outcomes for children.

1  

In a very important step forward, the recent congressional reauthorization of Head Start set performance standards for programs that include a requirement for B.A.-qualified classroom staff.

Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"7 The Preparation of Early Childhood Professionals." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Next: 8	Program and Practice Standards »
Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers Get This Book
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Clearly babies come into the world remarkably receptive to its wonders. Their alertness to sights, sounds, and even abstract concepts makes them inquisitive explorers--and learners--every waking minute. Well before formal schooling begins, children's early experiences lay the foundations for their later social behavior, emotional regulation, and literacy. Yet, for a variety of reasons, far too little attention is given to the quality of these crucial years. Outmoded theories, outdated facts, and undersized budgets all play a part in the uneven quality of early childhood programs throughout our country.

What will it take to provide better early education and care for our children between the ages of two and five? Eager to Learn explores this crucial question, synthesizing the newest research findings on how young children learn and the impact of early learning. Key discoveries in how young children learn are reviewed in language accessible to parents as well as educators: findings about the interplay of biology and environment, variations in learning among individuals and children from different social and economic groups, and the importance of health, safety, nutrition and interpersonal warmth to early learning. Perhaps most significant, the book documents how very early in life learning really begins. Valuable conclusions and recommendations are presented in the areas of the teacher-child relationship, the organization and content of curriculum, meeting the needs of those children most at risk of school failure, teacher preparation, assessment of teaching and learning, and more. The book discusses:

  • Evidence for competing theories, models, and approaches in the field and a hard look at some day-to-day practices and activities generally used in preschool.
  • The role of the teacher, the importance of peer interactions, and other relationships in the child's life.
  • Learning needs of minority children, children with disabilities, and other special groups.
  • Approaches to assessing young children's learning for the purposes of policy decisions, diagnosis of educational difficulties, and instructional planning.
  • Preparation and continuing development of teachers.

Eager to Learn presents a comprehensive, coherent picture of early childhood learning, along with a clear path toward improving this important stage of life for all children.

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