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Let the Research Show: Developing the Research to Improve Early Childhood Teacher Preparation

Ashley LiBetti

Title image for Bellwether publication "Let the Research Show," December 2018Early childhood educators play a crucial role in supporting the development of our nation’s youngest children. Research shows that the quality of interactions between adults and children is one of the strongest predictors of learning outcomes in early childhood classrooms, and that the difference between a more and less effective kindergarten teacher can have lifelong effects on children’s learning and earnings.

Given the research, policymakers and advocates are doing all they can to ensure that early educators are effective, often through improving the quality of their preparation. But as a field, we know next to nothing about how to prepare an effective early educator.

“Let the Research Show” digs into the research on how an early educator’s preparation affects their effectiveness in the classroom — and ultimately finds that there are no clear answers about what high-quality teacher preparation looks like. This is particularly alarming because more and more states and localities are requiring preschool teachers to earn degrees. While some states are providing the resources and support to do so, completing a degree still carries a substantial financial and time cost, particularly for current early educators. If public policies demand that early educators earn degrees, it’s crucial to ensure that this preparation actually helps them improve their practice — and right now, the research can’t guarantee that.

This report proposes a research agenda to build on what we currently know about early childhood teacher preparation and fill the gaps in our knowledge. Specifically, the paper calls for research into the types of preparation practices and content that lead to effective early educators.

At the same time, “Let the Research Show” makes the case that policymakers must be cautious with early childhood teacher preparation policy. For the sake of urgency, it’s tempting to more closely standardize preparation and degree requirements, but that would be a mistake in the absence of more robust research. Instead, policymakers should design a more flexible policy environment that encourages program experimentation, builds on best practices, and can be refined as more research becomes available.

Download the full report here or read it in the viewer below.