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Postsecondary Coursework among Early Childhood Education Teachers without Formal Degrees

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The fragmented nature of early childhood teachers’ preparatory experiences has prompted efforts to develop a unifying framework that defines the foundational knowledge teachers need to possess in order to be effective at fostering preschool children's social-emotional, cognitive, and language development. At the forefront of this effort is the IOM/NRC (2015)’s Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce, which articulated a number of core knowledge domains, including knowledge of (a) child development; (b) subject matter; (c) pedagogy; (d) pedagogical content; and of (e) diverse learners.

College courses are one of the most common avenues to foster these types of professional knowledge, but to date, much of the research on preschool teachers' postsecondary experiences has focused on degree attainment, without considering the content of the courses that teachers have taken. This study addressed this gap by analyzing college transcripts to understand the types of courses that are associated with better teaching and learning outcomes. We used the IOM/NRC’s teacher knowledge domains as a framework for classifying coursework content.

The study drew from 169 preschool-aged children linked to 37 ECE teachers in 27 community-based child care centers throughout Colorado. For the purpose of this study, we focused on teachers without a formal degree because this is the most common educational profile of ECE teachers working in community-based centers. In our sample, 30% of teachers earned a high school diploma and 70% did not have a postsecondary degree but had completed some college units.

We used the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R) to measure classroom quality and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Student Achievement and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to assess children’s cognitive and language outcomes. We developed a system in which we were able to reliably code teachers’ transcripts into one of the following core teacher knowledge domains identified above by the IOM/NRC report. In instances where the course titles were ambiguous, we consulted the College Source Online repository, which contains course catalogs for thousands of U.S. and international postsecondary institutions. We used the course catalogs to obtain descriptions for all of the courses in which course titles were ambiguous. The course descriptions were sufficient to resolve all discrepancies.

Using multivariate regression that controlled for key covariates such as child’s prior cognitive scores, we found that children whose teachers had taken more subject matter courses in English and more PCK courses in literacy/language demonstrated higher language and literacy skills than students whose teachers had taken fewer of these courses. Similarly, children whose teachers had taken more PCK courses in math demonstrated higher applied problem solving skills than children whose teachers had taken fewer PCK math courses. In addition, we found that teachers who had taken more units in child development demonstrated higher ECERS-R scores compared to teachers who had taken fewer units.

The results of our pilot study point to the importance of considering coursework content to assess the associations between teachers’ higher education,classroom quality, and children’s learning outcomes.

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