- Requiring bachelor’s degrees for early-childhood educators has become more prevalent over the past decade, due to the federal government mandating that at least 50% of Head Start teachers have a college degree by 2013, as well as an ongoing federally funded preschool expansion project in Massachusetts that says all lead preschool teachers must have one, according to the Hechinger Report.
- However, finding preschool educators with college degrees is difficult — the average preschool teacher's salary outside a public school setting is almost half of what a public school teacher earns. And in Massachusetts, public programs serve only about 13% of preschoolers.
- Massachusetts officials are working to create more affordable pathways like a MassTransfer initiative that encourages students to earn associate degrees in early-childhood education before transferring to a four-year college; an Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program that covers most of college tuition for qualifying students, and the exploration of a competency-based pathway that may offer college credit for knowledge already obtained as an early-childhood educator.
The debate over the need for college degrees for early-childhood educators has drawn national attention recently in publications such as The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report weighing in on the issue. The controversy grew when the District of Columbia announced in March 2017 it would begin requiring associate degrees for lead teachers working with children under the age of 5.
Many lawmakers and early-childhood education advocates want to elevate the status of the profession with stronger requirements, including bachelor’s degrees. While some argue that those teaching 4-year-olds should have just as much preparation as someone teaching kindergarten, there are concerns that early educators already in the field cannot afford the time and money to get a diploma, and that raising the qualifications to teach preschool also places a burden on parents who would likely bear the brunt of the increase in higher child care and preschool costs.
Other experts say a degree requirement would likely disrupt one of the advantages of preschool education — the racial diversity of its workforce. As an article from The 74 points out, “Preschool teachers differ in a number of ways from their colleagues in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. While K-12 teachers are largely female (68%), preschool teachers are overwhelmingly so (98%), and the proportion of non-white preschool teachers is more than twice as large as those in K-12 schools (37% versus 18%).”
Other efforts to improve the quality of early-childhood education include required online courses or professional development through coaching. The latter is especially beneficial if it can be coordinated with local school districts, as it increases the connection between early-childhood education and early grades, better preparing students for kindergarten and the acquisition of literacy and math skills.