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Well Intended but with Devastating Consequences

Pre-school promise risks isolating kids of color

Ron Herndon and Kali Thorne Ladd | 7/19/2016, 4:27 p.m.
Hope lies in the seeds of early-childhood and K-5 interventions.
Ron Herndon and Kali Thorne Ladd

Oregon has recently introduced the Pre-school Promise legislation intended to seed ideas and pilots that exemplify how we can creatively support children in early childhood and give more children access to quality early learning experiences. In the legislation was a provision intended to “professionalize” early childhood educators by requiring these educators to have a BA degree.

Though no doubt well intended, this provision could have devastating consequences and will have an adverse impact on the African-American, Native American and Latino early childhood workforce. Pre-school children from these ethnic groups will experience fewer and fewer teachers from their respective communities. As in the K-12 system, this BA policy risks isolating some of the most vulnerable children and create the conditions in which implicit bias can prevail.

Once more, there is no compelling research demonstrating that a preschool or Head Start teacher with a BA has better child outcomes than a well-trained teacher without a BA. A teacher, particularly a teacher of color, that has deep cultural knowledge and has received years of excellent on the job training is just as, if not more powerful than the latter. We have several training examples -- such as apprenticeship programs that are found at community based organizations and community colleges -- designed to prepare individuals entering skilled crafts such as carpenters or electricians. How can we learn from them to build a strong early childhood workforce and preserve the talented teachers who now risk being deemed “unqualified”?

It’s worth mentioning that there is no funding to increase in wages to match the BA qualification leaving little incentive for people to go back to college and saddle themselves with debt. That is, if they could actually get accepted into college in the first place. The inequities on the higher education side related to access and completion are already well documented.

“Traditionally, we have viewed higher education as an antidote to inequality, but our higher education system, like so many of our institutions, is rife with racial and class disparities, from enrollment to completion,” reads the report, titled Less Debt, More Equity: Lowering Student Debt While Closing the Black-White Wealth Gap.

A few years ago eight Portland area teachers and administrators met and discussed teaching training they received at a local four year college. All eight individuals obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and combined they had over 70 years of teaching experience. The common theme all eight educators shared was how poorly prepared they were to teach children. They also commented there was no clear indication their college professors had in fact ever been successful public school teachers! The idea of master teachers training and teaching up and coming teachers has not been explored meaningfully in the current higher education system.

We now have an opportunity to do something different. An opportunity to retain diversity in the early childhood workforce while creating pathways and professional development that ensure we have high-quality early childhood educators teaching our youngest children well. We have an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about teacher prep and teacher training based on what currently works and what currently exists instead of creating a new system that could ultimately do more harm than good in serving children who already have so much in the world stacked against them. Failure to meaningfully do this erodes belief that true systemic change for under-served kids is in fact the goal. Instead of listening to what community says they need, an avuncular approach of “let us tell you what’s best” under-scores an entirely different intent.