Do Preschool Teachers Really Need to Be College Graduates?

Let’s get right into it. Yes, preschool teachers need to be college graduates. As a matter of fact, they need a bachelor’s degree, not and associates. Why? Because they need to have a well-rounded understanding of child development, early childhood education, etc. For instance, an associates degree (2-year) in early childhood education at Jay Sargent Reynolds Community College in Virginia requires you to take 15 courses that are devoted to early childhood education or child development. The curriculum is robust, but it only tackles the fundamental or introductory knowledge and skills that a competent early childhood educator should have.

Many students in this program end up finishing their associate’s degree and transferring to Virginia Commonwealth University to complete their bachelor’s degree (4-year) in early childhood education. With the 15 courses that they took at Jay Sargent Reynolds and the 14 courses that they took at Virginia Commonwealth University, students end up taking a grand total or courses in fulfillment of their bachelor’s degree. This gives students enough time to really understand the nuances of child development and early childhood education, which will help them to be competent preschool teachers.

What states require preschool teachers to have a degree, and why does it matter?

Unfortunately, the scenario that I just laid out is not the norm. As of 2015, 27 states require that preschool teachers have a minimum of a bachelors degree, 34 states require that they have an associates degree, and 7 states only require preschool teachers to have a high school diploma. For too long, we have thought of early childhood education as child’s play, something that any high school graduate can do. However, this is an antiquated practice that is detrimental to the development of our most precious resource, our children.

We spend too much time during the high school years trying to convince students not to drop out, but the seeds of academic failure were planted years before, in early childhood education. Because of this, it makes sense to require that the teachers who will be helping students build their educational foundations be highly educated and qualified.

How degree holding teachers impact the achievement gap

We know that the inequities and achievement gaps that exist in the education system develop way before Kindergarten, mainly because preschool teachers in low-income areas are often less qualified than those in middle-class neighborhoods. Here is the dirty little secret. In middle-class neighborhoods, their preschool teachers are more likely to have 4-year degrees, even if the state only requires preschool teachers to hold a high school diploma.

That’s why I get upset when I hear critics say that there is nothing about teaching preschool that requires an education beyond high school. I mean what planet are they on? They usually go on to say that mandating that preschool teachers possess a teaching credential will cause the price of child care to skyrocket as daycares and preschools would have to pay educators on a K-12 teachers scale.

Research studies of early childhood programs in New Jersey and Oklahoma have reported positive outcomes for students who were taught by teachers who had college degrees, as opposed to teachers who only had high school diplomas or the equivalent. However, convincing teachers with 4-year degrees to teach in early childhood education is a long shot. Why? Because the average salary for a preschool teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $27,200 to $42,800, depending on the setting and children’s age, and the average salary for an elementary school teacher with a comparable college education is $56,100.

How do we get around this? It’s simple, pay preschool teachers, the same salary that you pay elementary school teachers. Wouldn’t this cause the price of preschool and daycare to skyrocket? Sure, but I have a solution. We offer every child a free K-12 education, why not extend that to PreK-12 and offer universal preschool to all students, regardless of economic status. Wouldn’t that be the American thing to do?

Also, ensuring that students receive a strong educational foundation will help them become academically successful later on in life, provided that the K-12 system does its job. Also, it would help reduce the number of school dropouts and close the school to prison pipeline. In turn, more citizens would be ready to contribute to our burgeoning democracy, which would give our economy a boost. Theoretically, this would lower the unemployment rate and lower the number of people who resort to crime as a means to sustain themselves financially.

So you see, requiring all preschool teachers to have 4-year degrees can pay for itself and have a positive impact on the economy and citizens of the United States.

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