What should the certification process be for early childhood teachers?
A process that reflects the specialized work these teachers do. It’s up to policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that this happens.
“During the first eight years of child development and learning, the educator’s role is different in many ways than the role a teacher plays later in a child’s life. Policies and practices should reflect this reality,” the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) explains on its website.
How are states doing at setting up distinctive certification processes that focus on early education?
Last month, NAEYC released new state profiles that reveal strengths and weaknesses.
“Using each state’s terminology, the profiles provide a snapshot of the certificates/licenses and endorsements for birth through third grade teachers in public schools; the cycle, if any, by which states review their certification policies; and other information noted by the state respondents as appropriate. We did not include academic content-specific or disability-specific certifications and endorsements.”
The Massachusetts profile is posted here.
Policymakers and higher education officials can use these profiles “when considering new policies for preparing and licensing teachers. At the local district and school levels, we hope the profiles will fuel a meaningful conversation around the policies for hiring and assigning classroom teachers.”
A History of Certification Advocacy
In 1991, NAEYC joined with the Association of Teacher Educators and called on states to adopt “a specialized early childhood teacher certification for educators working with children from birth through age eight. The goal was to recognize the special knowledge and skills needed to successfully teach young people during these critical years,” NAEYC’s website explains.
In 2008, “NAEYC and the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE) went further, stating, ‘Teacher certification/endorsement required in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs, kindergartens, and primary grade classrooms should be specific to early childhood education.’”
The State Profiles
To develop the profiles, NAEYC “created a survey that was sent to state directors of teacher certification and other state early childhood administrators. NAEYC staff also conducted research on state certification policies. States had a chance to make edits or clarifications.”
An NAEYC brief — “Early Childhood Teacher Certification: The current state policies landscape and opportunities” — describes these overarching findings:
• “Most states have one or more teacher certifications that recognize early childhood general education and early childhood special education.”
• “Many states have a broad certification that encompasses both early childhood and middle childhood (extending to the sixth or eighth grade). Of those states, most also provide an endorsement that includes more specialization in early childhood education.”
• “Most states have multiple certificates that subdivide the early childhood span, and there is not much consistency in these subdivisions among states.”
• “Many states have overlapping certificates, such as a certificate for teaching prekindergarten and kindergarten and another certificate for teaching kindergarten through a higher grade level.”
• “Terminology differs among states. Many states use the term ‘certificate,’ others use the term ‘license,’ and one state uses the term ‘credential.’”
• “Most states review and revise their certification policies on an as-needed basis, for reasons such as legislative changes, and few states have a regular cycle for undertaking reviews and changes.”
Faced with these variations, NAEYC makes a number of policy recommendations, including:
• providing teachers with a broad, birth-through-8 perspective
“…all early childhood professionals should have a broad knowledge of development and learning across the birth-through-age-8 range. Without knowing about the past and the future (the precursors to children’s current development and learning and the trajectory they will follow in later years), teachers cannot design effective learning opportunities within their specific professional assignment.”
• maintaining a distinct focus on early childhood
“There are states that have created certifications that extend beyond the early childhood period such as preschool through sixth- or eighth-grade certifications or first-grade through middle-school-years certifications. While these give school administrators more flexibility in placement of teachers within their school buildings, they often hinder the ability of teacher preparation programs to prepare graduates with specialized knowledge and skills in early education. States should continue to develop distinct early childhood teaching certification based on the developmental period.”
• developing a common language
“A shared terminology, developed and agreed upon by teacher preparation programs, national organizations, and other stakeholders, will better support data collection and research efforts, policy alignment across state agencies, and portability of early childhood teacher credentials across sectors of the field and across states.”
“We are pleased that states are making progress in this area, but as the profiles show, most states still have a licensure structure that is unnecessarily complex and often overlapping,” Rhian Evans Allvin, NAEYC’s executive director said in a press release. “We hope that these profiles will help state policymakers, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders in high-quality teaching examine their policies so that the nexus of certification, preparation, and classroom assignment help every child maximize his or her learning potential from birth through the early grades.”