Volume 11 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2009
Moving toward a More Robust Research Agenda:
A Response to Hyson et al.
In both the early care and education and K-12 worlds, teacher preparation and education are highly politicized issues as diverse stakeholders grapple with the decline in the quality of the U.S. educational system. In K-12 education, there is a great deal of ongoing controversy about the merits of certification, the value of college and university schools of education, the best ways to measure teacher effectiveness, and how to guide new teachers through the critical first five years of service. In early care and education, whether to require a college degree at all (and if so, which one) vs. whether other forms of professional development are sufficient continues to be a source of lively debate (Bogard, Traylor, & Takanishi, 2008; Early et al., 2008).
Many are looking to research for answers, but in both K-12 and early care and education, research models and approaches are not necessarily designed to answer today’s questions. Both fields are in urgent need of more complex, comprehensive, and rigorous research to identify the optimal content and structure of teacher education programs, teaching work environments, and ongoing teacher support.
“Quality Improvement in Early Childhood Teacher Education: Faculty Perspectives and Recommendations for the Future” is an important foray into a much-needed area of research about the breadth, depth, and efficacy of early childhood teacher education. In essence, by focusing on how faculty view the context of their teaching and their own backgrounds, Hyson and colleagues point to areas for further investigation and underscore the need for revamping and investing in early childhood teacher preparation. For too long in the field, we have debated the optimum level of education and training for early childhood practitioners without looking at aspects of teacher preparation as the type and extent of coursework completed, mentoring, or fieldwork requirements prior to teaching, let alone the academic and professional preparation or the work environments of the teacher educators themselves. And yet we know, not only from this study but from the work of others, that early childhood teacher preparation in institutions of higher education is severely under-resourced, with heavier teaching loads and fewer full-time faculty compared to other departments within the same institutions (Maxwell, Lim, & Early, 2006; Whitebook, Bellm, Lee, & Sakai, 2005). These studies also point to the lack of consistent academic preparation in early childhood development and pedagogy among faculty, not to mention the absence of direct and/or recent experience in working with children prior to kindergarten.
This article should serve as the beginning of a more robust early childhood teacher education research agenda. We need to know not only more about how faculty background and experience impact the quality of education available to students, but we also need to know more about the interplay between different approaches to teacher education for students from different backgrounds and at different stages of their careers. Students in two-year programs, for example, may have already been working with children for some time, thus bringing different needs and questions to the college classroom than younger students new to teaching. Increasingly, too, early educators are pursuing B.A. degrees in response to changing qualifications for teaching staff in Head Start and publicly funded preschools. Many of these students are older, working full time, like their counterparts in two-year programs. Many “nontraditional students” benefit from taking classes in cohort, receiving academic and technological counseling, having generous financial aid, and having flexible class schedules and locations (Whitebook, Sakai, Kipnis, Almaraz, Suarez, & Bellm, 2008). Understanding how faculty respond to these new needs of students also is an important area for further research.
The Obama Administration has signaled an interest in transforming the teaching profession, which includes a focus on reforms in teacher education. Combined with the President’s commitment to early education, the time is now for a well-articulated research and policy agenda for teacher education reform at this level (Whitebook, Gomby, Bellm, Sakai, & Kipnis, 2009). Given the financial crisis in higher education, the ability of early care and education teacher preparation programs to seriously improve in quality will require an investment in faculty and other supports, such as have been made in nursing and special education, if these programs will be able to do their part in advancing a national commitment to quality early learning.
Bogard, Kimber; Traylor, Fasaha; & Takanishi, Ruby. (2008). Teacher education and PK outcomes: Are we asking the right questions? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(1), 2-6.
Early, Diane M.; Maxwell, Kelly L.; Clifford, Richard M.; Pianta, Robert C.; Ritchie, Sharon; Howes, Carollee; & Bryant, Donna M.; Burchinal, Margaret; & Barbarin, Oscar. (2008). Teacher education and child outcomes: A reply to the commentary. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(1), 7-9.
Maxwell, Kelly L.; Lim, Chih-Ing; & Early, Diane M. (2006). Early childhood teacher preparation programs in the United States: National report. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.
Whitebook, Marcy; Bellm, Dan; Lee, Yuna; & Sakai, Laura. (2005). Time to revamp and expand: Early childhood teacher preparation programs in California’s institutions of higher education. Berkeley: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California at Berkeley.
Whitebook, Marcy; Gomby, Deanna S.; Bellm, Dan; Sakai, Laura; & Kipnis, Fran. (2009). Effective teacher preparation in early care and education: Toward a comprehensive research agenda. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Retrieved April 26, 2009, from http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/cscce/index.html
Whitebook, Marcy; Sakai, Laura; Kipnis, Fran; Almaraz, Mirella; Suarez, Esther; & Bellm, Dan. (2008). Learning together: A study of six B.A. completion cohort programs in early care and education. Year I report. Berkeley: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California at Berkeley.
Marcy Whitebook, Ph.D. (UCLA), is director/senior researcher of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining UC Berkeley, she taught in early childhood programs and was the founding executive director of the Washington-based Center for the Child Care Workforce (CCW). Marcy led the landmark National Child Care Staffing Study, which first brought public attention to the low wages and high turnover of child care teachers. She co-developed the Early Childhood Mentor Program in California and CARES, a California program to encourage professional development and retention of early care and education practitioners.