Improving the nation’s roads, bridges, and rails is a priority in Washington. But bolstering America’s “infrastructure of opportunity,” especially early childhood education (ECE), is just as important, Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-20) said at a recent UnidosUS briefing on Capitol Hill.
“Just as there’s an infrastructure of roads and streets and highways that that helps all of us get to where we want to go on the road,” said Castro, “in the United States, I think that what makes this country special among the nations of the world, there’s an infrastructure of opportunity that helps all of us get to where we want to go in life.”
Representative Castro and UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía both singled out supporting Latina teachers in the pre-K workforce as a critical part of raising the quality level of ECE. UnidosUS organized the Hill briefing to encourage discussion of obstacles holding teachers back or driving them out of schools, and to spotlight UnidosUS policy recommendations to help increase the number of qualified teachers, particularly Latinas, in ECE programs where they can make a difference.
“We support having qualified individuals in these roles, but we can learn a lot about the best way to do that,” Murguía said.
UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has produced a report titled Latina Teachers and the “BA Challenge”to examine the impacts of increasing degree requirements for teachers in ECE. UnidosUS started the research partly due to a concern that requiring ECE teachers to get bachelor’s degrees would drive many people out of the field.
Nationally, Latinas make up 19% of all ECE teachers, the vast majority of whom are women. About half have bachelor’s degrees. Of the 94 teachers who participated in focus groups for the UnidosUS report, more than a third (34%) had 15 years or more of ECE experience. Given this data, UnidosUS concluded that it is critical to develop policies to help retain diverse, experienced teachers, and give them compensation that is commensurate with this experience.
“We all want teachers who are qualified teaching our children,” said UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía. “The question this report raises is whether the new credentialing requirements are necessary for teachers who are as experienced and expert as those we surveyed in this report.”
The report said that a small number of teachers left the field when their programs told them they had to get bachelor’s degrees to keep their jobs. But the “real ‘BA challenge’” was that many teachers have been met with unnecessary hurdles when they went back to pursue bachelor’s degrees, the study found. Some found their community college credits didn’t transfer to their four-year university, so they had to repeat classes. Some had to strain personal resources to cover tuition and fees because financial help was lacking. And even once they got the degree and returned to the classroom, many received little or no additional compensation to recognize their new qualifications.
“I got my BA and then I went in and asked my boss, ‘where’s my raise?’” said Head Start teacher Ena Dorantes in a panel discussion at the UnidosUS event. “And they said, oh, you’ve been getting paid like you had a BA the whole time. And for me it was so disappointing. At least I wanted like one more penny, just to show that I got my BA.”
Dorantes said the only way for her to get that raise is to become a supervisor, which she soon will do. But that will pull her out of the classroom.
The loss of a Latina teacher is not something the ECE system can afford, said Robert Stechuk, PhD, director of Early Childhood Education Programs. In the coming decades, one in three preschoolers will be Latino. Research shows that those students will do best if they have a teacher sensitive to the needs of dual-language learners, so it’s critical to find and keep teachers who speak Spanish and understand the cultural background of the children in their classrooms, Stechuk said.
He added that the UnidosUS report recommended six federal and state policy changes to address these challenges:
- Increase ECE teacher compensation to be commensurate with job responsibilities.
- Increase supports and system alignment to facilitate teacher’s degree completion, including a federal scholarship program.
- Revise teacher preparation programs to meaningfully incorporate cultural and linguistic responsiveness as substantive and fundamental to course syllabi and degree program requirements.
- Revise teacher preparation programs to mandate transparent and seamless articulation agreements that facilitate the transition from associate degrees into bachelor’s programs without loss of credits.
- Revise teacher preparation programs to assess and develop the availability of hybrid (blended) and on-site course offerings to meet available demand.
- Recognize and incorporate cultural and linguistic responsiveness as essential elements of high-quality ECE.
Christine Alvarado, chief innovation officer at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, said raising credentialing requirements on ECE teachers is part of the formula for ensuring that diverse preschool classrooms offer the kind of high-quality early education that has been proven to make a difference in children’s lives. But there is plenty more that needs to be done, she said.
“A BA degree is a starting point, and it does make a difference. Teachers with degrees make a difference with our children and the end result is a higher quality classroom, and better interactions, which are important,” Alvarado said during a panel discussion that was part of the UnidosUS event. “However it is not enough. Teachers have to know how to build those relationships and understand how to apply their knowledge of child development, and the only way to do that is through experience.”
by UnidosUS Consultant Harold Maass