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Head Start Proposal Advocates For More Teachers With Degrees


May 22, 2003

NIEER Director Steve Barnett lauded the teacher provisions of the House Head Start Reauthorization proposal released today that calls for increased numbers of teachers who hold college degrees with specialized training in early childhood development. He also called for authorization of additional funding to ensure the intent of the proposal can be met.

“There’s no question about it: three- and four-year-olds learn the most – socially, emotionally and academically – when their teachers have a college degree and some background in early childhood development,” he said. “The reverse is also true. When teachers lack college training and courses in child development, children reap less of the educational benefits that scientific studies show can accrue from the highest-quality programs.”

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by John Boehner (R-OH), today released its Head Start reauthorization proposal, authored by Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE). The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) pointed out that the teacher provisions of the proposal are supported by key research findings that link student performance to teacher qualifications, recently released by the Institute.

“Better-educated teachers have more positive, sensitive and responsive interactions with children. “They provide richer language and cognitive experiences, and are less authoritarian, punitive and detached,” said Barnett.

“We owe the children in Head Start no less. Disadvantaged children by far have less access to high-quality teachers, yet a number of studies suggest that the teacher quality makes a larger impact on the learning and development of children from disadvantaged families,” he said.

According to NIEER’s policy brief, “Better Teachers, Better Preschools: Student Achievement Linked to Teacher Qualifications” by Barnett, Head Start programs were not required until recently to have any higher education. Even now, only a quarter of Head Start’s teachers have four-year college degrees. Others have some college and many have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which may not require college coursework. Currently Head Start requires only that half of all teachers have a two-year college degree by 2003.

The House Head Start reauthorization proposal calls for all newly-hired teachers within three years to have an associates, bachelor’s or other advanced degree in early childhood education, or an associates, bachelor’s or advanced degree in a field related to early childhood education with experience in teaching preschool children. The proposal also calls for half the Head Start teachers to have Bachelor’s degrees by 2008.

Head Start teachers were paid an average of $21,287 in 2001. However, kindergarten teachers – with similar educational requirements – were paid a median salary of $43,152. “It will be difficult to hire and retain highly-qualified teachers in the Head Start program when the comparative salaries are so dramatically different for kindergarten teachers,” said Barnett.

Barnett predicted that additional funds would be necessary to fully fulfill the promise held out by the proposal, but noted that a minimal investment made now would lead to significant economic benefits in terms of crime prevention, reduced state and federal costs and increased earnings by participants.

“This is a critical social issue,” said Barnett, “since so many youngsters arrive at kindergarten already behind their peers. In some states, close to half of all five-year-olds lack the verbal and social skills to succeeds in school, forcing many public schools to provide them with costly remedial help.”

“Some never catch up,” he said.

However, Barnett says this need not be the case. “A vast body of research conducted in the last decade clearly shows that a high-quality preschool experience, with a qualified teacher, can prepare children adequately, not only for success in kindergarten, but throughout life. Long-range studies reveal that children who have a high quality preschool experience are more likely to graduate high school and college and to have higher lifetime earnings.

Barnett also pointed to the need for additional funds to support the state demonstration programs called for in the proposal. To accurately measure the benefits and/or pitfalls, the state demonstrations should include funds for a rigorous evaluation.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research has published two policy briefs on this topic: “Better Teachers, Better Preschools: Student Achievement Linked to Teacher Qualifications,” and “Low Wages = Low Quality, Solving the Real Preschool Teacher Crisis.” They are available on NIEER’s website – www.nieer.org. NIEER provides objective, nonpartisan information, based on research. NIEER is funded primarily by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The opinions expressed in this release are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.