The new governor of Texas ran on a pre-kindergarten platform. And he announced early childhood education as a main priority. Yet, his plan does little to help ensure teachers have the knowledge necessary to be effective teachers of young children.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan focuses on pre-K teachers being required to have a Child Development Associate Credential and a bachelor’s degree. Such a proposal sounds good, yet it does little to address the underlying issue that most teachers who work in early childhood classrooms have little knowledge of child development or a range of early childhood specific teaching and learning principles.
Texas is one of only four states that do not have teacher certification specific to early childhood. The House Public Education Committee met to discuss teacher quality on Tuesday.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators recommend that teachers have either an early childhood teacher certificate or endorsement.
Rather than fixing certification to benefit all years of early childhood, Abbott is only focused on certification for pre-K teachers.
Helping K-3 teachers understand practices and develop strong relationships with children and families is not part of his emphasis on early childhood education.
Failure to see early childhood education as being much more than pre-K means that many K-3 classrooms in Texas public schools have a narrow focus on literacy and numeric skills rather than supporting creative and engaged learning experiences. They are not able to address all domains of children’s early learning, including the social, intellectual, emotional, linguistic, cultural and physical development of young children.
During public testimony at the Texas Education Agency’s Sunset Hearing, Andrea Brauer of Texans Care for Children testified, “Many early childhood professionals, such as representatives from school districts, and the Texas Association of Administrators and Supervisors of Programs for Young Children, believe the current certification does not provide adequate training for the needs of preschool teachers and students.”
Texas policy makers need a better understanding of how young children learn and why teachers with specialized training in early childhood teaching and learning are to be treasured.
Early childhood spans the first eight years of a child’s life. It is during this time that the most brain and language development occurs. Effective early childhood educators have specific knowledge in how children develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively.
They also understand best practices for assessment, curriculum design and engaging families. Many of these practices are quite different from those in the upper elementary grades.
For example, in high quality kindergarten classrooms there is a large amount of time for different types of play. This is so children can develop social skills, oral language skills, motor skills, number concepts and an intrinsic need for written language. These classrooms look different from higher-grade classrooms.
Texas in the past decade has diminished its value of the field of early childhood education.
Texas used to require teachers to have special training in early childhood education to teach in pre-K or kindergarten classrooms. Now, Texas only requires a general certification that allows teachers to teach all kids from pre-K to sixth grade (3- to 12-year-olds) without any kind of specialized training in early childhood education.
Teaching 4-year-olds is quite a different experience than teaching 11-year-olds. Attempts to teach them in the same way can backfire.
Out of 16 Texas universities, only two offered more than two early childhood courses for certification. The lack of emphasis on the early grades means that teachers enter the classroom with little knowledge critical to be effective in an early childhood classroom.
Essentially, teachers can graduate with little to no coursework in teaching young children and are not required to demonstrate their knowledge in order to be certified by the state, but yet can be placed in a early childhood classroom to teach and care for young children.
Change must happen for the young children of Texas.
Current certification practices are not benefiting children. The new governor and many legislators have voiced interest in early education. Let’s make sure they provide the best for Texas.
Summerville is a graduate student in early childhood education at the University of Texas at Austin. Keys Adair is a professor of early childhood education at UT.