It takes a pre-K class to raise a child

Candidate Hillary Clinton proposes $10 billion in federal matching funds for state pre-kindergarten programs open to all four-year-olds.

On Early Stories, Richard Colvin wonders if this will be covered as political or education.

If only political reporters cover it, the stories are likely to focus on political strategy and positioning. That’s not unimportant, because the politics of an expanded federal role in a program serving young children are tricky, even more so than other federal efforts, such as the No Child Left Behind act. But the outline of the Clinton program — requiring all teachers to have bachelor’s degrees and special training, standards, use of certain curricula and so forth — have educational implications. (Just one: where will all the well-trained teachers come from? There isn’t much a of a pipeline to produce such teachers.) So, one hopes that education writers will jump in as well.

In an earlier post, Colvin reports on a “webinar” on research showing the best pre-K teachers aren’t necessarily those with college degrees. Researcher Robert C. Pianta has developed a quality scale for pre-k teachers that “predicts quite accurately how much children learn.” In most classes studied, Pianta found only a quarter of teachers provided high-quality instruction.

Fortunately, however, Pianta and his colleagues have developed some training tools that help pre-k teachers get better. He asserts that it is the skill and knowledge of the teachers — not their degrees or certifications — that matters. In fact, his data show no correlation between degree attainment and teacher performance. What does matter is training and professional development tied to knowledge and skill about teaching in actual classrooms.

So why require that pre-k or preschool teachers have a college degree? To raise their pay and status, Colvin replies

In other words, it’s about positioning pre-k as part of the formal education system, which requires formal degrees and credentials.

Pre-kindergarten is valuable to children from disadvantaged and non-English-speaking families; many children with disabilities or learning problems also benefit from a head start. But most children do not need to start a formal educational program at the age of four in order to be successful in school. And, if we’re going to spend billions of dollars to provide pre-k, why not spend the money on training shown to be effective rather than college credits shown to be irrelevant?

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