By Patricia Lozano
Early Edge California
I just got back from a Pre-K Education legislative hearing in Sacramento. It is so gratifying to see that the Early Learning Tour we organized last year with Assemblymember Kevin McCarty is having such great impact in California. During the hearing, Early Learning leaders shared their “Aha! moments” from our visits to high quality preschools in Boston, New Jersey and New York City. They talked about what we must do to provide these same opportunities here in California, and emphasized that state preschool program best practices include adequate funding, smaller class sizes, the use of evidence-based curriculums, and implementation through a mixed-delivery system. But what all the speakers at the hearing consistently focused on was the critical need to improve the training, qualifications and pay of our Early Learning teachers.
Highlights from the hearing:
State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, who joined our Early Learning Tour, expressed his strong support for increasing investments in Early Learning programs in California as a key step to closing the achievement gap and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. He shared that his most important takeaway from the Tour was learning about the intentional and smart investments other states have made to expand high-quality Pre-K. With a Governor who’s a champion for kids, Superintendent Thurmond said “the time is now” for California to do the same.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) presenters talked about the lack of access 3 and 4 year-old children from low-income families have to state-funded Early Learning programs in California. More than ⅓ of low-income 4-year olds and a far larger percentage of low-income 3-year olds are not currently enrolled in any Early Learning program.
This means that too many California children– particularly those most in need–are starting kindergarten without some of the skills and knowledge that kids who attend preschool gain. This gap in knowledge builds over time and many kids never catch up. All California children deserve the opportunity to access quality programs early on.
Pre-K expert Dr. Ellen Frede of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) presented on best practices from Pre-K programs in other states, and provided recommendations for California. We learned that Pre-K programs with highly-qualified and well-paid teachers have demonstrated the largest and most sustained gains for children.
Essential elements of quality Pre-K include:
Teachers with a BA and ECE Certification + pay parity with K-12 + supportive working conditions.
Dr. Frede also shared that:
- High-quality Pre-K should cost the same per pupil as K-12, but California spends less than half per pupil on Pre-K (~$6,000) as it does for K-12 (~$14,000).
- 31 states meet more of NIEER’s quality benchmarks for their state Pre-K programs than California.
- Alabama’s “First Class Pre-K” and North Carolina’s “More at 4 Pre-K” are two high-quality state Pre-K programs that are showing longer-term benefits for participating children.
- Both programs require a BA + ECE specialization for lead teachers.
Because all of the high-quality programs we visited on our Tour require their lead Pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree or higher, Sarah Neville-Morgan said she learned that having teachers with a BA not only helps to improve program quality, but it also lifts up the entire community. Many teachers were the first in their family to attend college, and they became an example for their own children and other family members.
Dr. Dean Tagawa, Executive Director Early Education, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Scott Moore, CEO of Kidango, provided an overview of the quality elements that they’ve implemented in their Early Learning programs.
Dr. Tagawa shared that 82% of LAUSD Pre-K teachers have a BA due to financial incentives and are paid the same salary as K-12 teachers. Scott Moore discussed how Kidango supports teachers as they increase their educational qualifications and maintains high retention rates. We know that a stable and well-prepared workforce is critical to providing quality experiences for young children.
This learning tour really brought home to me just how much the right educational opportunities can change people’s lives. A New Jersey teacher told us her story, about how finally achieving her life goal of obtaining a BA degree literally changed her life: as a mom, as a woman and as a role model for her kids. She shared that her efforts had inspired her kids to also attend college and advance their own educations. It’s that simple – when you provide the opportunities for advancement, you can dramatically change the lives not only of these teachers, but also of their students and families.
I had an opportunity to provide public comment at the end of the hearing where I shared my experience as a former Pre-K teacher myself. I had the great fortune to work at a preschool where teachers were valued and supported, with a boss who invested in my training and pushed to make me a high-quality teacher. These early career opportunities paved the way for me to grow in my career, and ultimately prepared me for the leadership role I have today which allows me to help other teachers, just the way that I was helped early on.
My goal is clear: I want California to invest in its teachers, to value them, so they in turn can help California’s kids have the best chance of success in school and in life.
California now has a Governor and Legislature that together value and support Early Learning initiatives, so let’s reform California’s Early Learning system so that every teacher gets the opportunity to develop and grow their career, and in turn provides the best start for our youngest kids.