Strengthening the Diversity and Quality of the Early Care and Education Workforce Paper Series

2021 Research Paper Series

Assistant Teachers in Head Start: Important Drivers of a Diverse and Competent Workforce
Jennifer Wallace Jacoby, Mount Holyoke College, Department of Psychology And Education
Assistant teachers play an important role in Head Start and other early care and education (ECE) programs. This study found that assistant teachers contribute to classroom quality in the program’s day-to-day implementation. Thirty-eight assistant–lead teaching teams from Head Start preschool classrooms across 14 Head Start centers within the larger agency participated in this study. Dual-language learner (DLL) children were present in each of the 38 classes. The minimum number of DLL children in any class was 3, and the maximum was 20.

The report’s findings shed light on the everyday contributions Head Start assistant teachers make to classroom quality, measured through teacher-child interactions. Findings have implications for policymakers, education administrators, and practitioners interested in understanding the importance of assistant teachers to the quality of Head Start programming, and particularly their role in supporting the growing population of DLL children in Head Start. The findings have implications for policy development that positively supports practices that train, develop, and retain assistant teachers in the workforce pipelines of Head Start and other ECE settings.

Early Care and Education Workforce Stress and Needs in a Restrictive, Anti-Immigrant Climate
Gabriela Barajas-Gonzalez, Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine
The ECE workforce experiences high levels of stress, partly because they have low incomes and limited access to professional and personal supports for their own well-being. In addition, the ECE workforce experiences sociopolitical stressors (i.e., stressors that arise from political legislation or from political leaders’ threatening rhetoric). This descriptive study examines one specific set of sociopolitical stressors—those arising from the restrictive, anti-immigrant climate aggravated by the 2016 presidential election.

Findings derive from a cross-sectional survey of 88 educators, paraprofessionals, social workers, administrators, therapists, and family coordinators (hereafter referred to as “educators”) working in schools and centers in New York City conducted from June 2019 through February 2020. Responding educators indicate that they experience stressors because of low incomes coupled with the restrictive, anti-immigrant climate. Educators reported significant stress because of low wages and the national anti-immigrant climate. To strengthen educators’ self-perceived efficacy in calming children’s distress in an anti-immigrant climate, multiple sources of school-based support are necessary: strong organizational communication, extensive informational support, and acknowledgment of immigration-related stressors among all workforce members.

Do Novice Kindergarten and First Grade Teachers Feel Prepared to Address Student Absenteeism?
Evidence from a Statewide Survey

Michael Gottfried, University of Pennsylvania
Jacob Kirksey, Texas Tech University
Ethan Hutt, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Children in kindergarten and first grade are missing more school than at any other point during the elementary years. Some research has examined schoolwide policies and practices that might help reduce absences, but limited research has focused on the role of teachers. This is the first known study to examine the role teacher preparation programs play in teachers’ perceptions of and knowledge about policy and practices to address absenteeism.

This study found that: (a) novice teachers (defined in this study as the teachers surveyed in the summer months after graduating from their teacher preparation programs but before starting their classroom teaching assignments) who entered kindergarten or first grade classrooms reported greater knowledge of chronic absenteeism when they thought their licensure requirement and placements prepared them well to teach; (b) teachers felt better prepared to address absenteeism with specific practices when they reported receiving more support from their teacher preparation program supervisors; and (c) novice second through fifth grade teachers do not report feeling better prepared to address absenteeism when they receive support from their teacher preparation program supervisors. This is meaningful given that teachers who feel the most prepared to address absenteeism are entering classrooms with greater absences. This study also offers motivation to consider how new teachers can be prepared to interface with parents of young children about state early education policies.

2019 Research Paper Series

Associations between Early Care and Education Teacher Characteristics and Observed Classroom Processes
Anna D. Johnson, Georgetown University
Anne Partika, Georgetown University
Owen Schochet, Georgetown University
Sherri Castle, University of Oklahoma

Early care and education (ECE) teachers are paid strikingly low wages yet are increasingly expected to advance children’s learning by offering high-quality classroom environments. Teachers’ capacities to provide high-quality instruction should be affected by the stressors they encounter and the supports they receive. This study describes ECE teacher supports, experiences, and well-being in a sample of teachers serving 4-year-olds from families with low incomes in a mixed-delivery ECE system in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We find that teachers who reported high levels of teamwork among colleagues and those who reported more wellness supports in the workplace had classrooms that scored higher on observed quality; teachers who reported more depressive symptoms scored lower on observed classroom quality. If these findings are replicated in other samples—using additional measures of ECE teacher supports, experiences, and well-being—they point to areas ripe for investment in ECE teacher professional development and workplace supports.

Professional Development Supports and Teacher Practice in Low-Income Pre-K Programs
Michelle Maier, MDRC
Anne Kou, MDRC

Public investment in pre-K programs across the US has expanded over the past two decades, primarily to increase access to pre-K programs, especially among low-income children and children of color. However, program quality varies across states. One key question policymakers and practitioners have posed is how to create high-quality early childhood educational environments that promote successful outcomes for all preschool-aged children. This study considers the role of professional development supports in helping teachers create high-quality learning experiences for children. It examines three professional development supports that early childhood programs often provide (teacher training, coaching, and common planning time), whether these supports predict various aspects of observed teacher practice, and whether the associations between professional development supports and teacher practice vary based on teachers’ experience. Findings suggest that ongoing coaching is a key form of professional development for supporting classroom quality, that common planning time may be a promising professional development support for teachers, and that programs may need to consider teachers’ experience when planning professional development. These findings inform the field’s efforts to build a competent workforce that meets the needs of diverse groups of young children.

Dos Métodos: Two Classroom Language Models in Head Start
Carola Oliva-Olson, California State University Channel Islands
Dual language learners make up an increasing share of preschool students, but they often perform worse than monolingual students on assessments measuring school achievement. This study compares Head Start classrooms implementing either the dual language model or the English with home language support model. The author examines how the models affect gains in English or Spanish oral proficiency over a school year and how classroom organization and quality affect potential proficiency gains. Students in dual language classrooms showed significantly greater average gains from pretest to posttest in English oral proficiency and Spanish oral proficiency than did students in classrooms using the English with home language support model. The difference was even more pronounced among classrooms with low organization. Findings highlight the need for professional development on language model use to ensure consistency in delivery.

 

These reports are part of a larger research paper series on Strengthening the Diversity and Quality of the Early Care and Education Workforce funded by the Foundation for Child Development and edited by the Urban Institute.

2021 paper series editor:  Diane Schilder, Urban Institute

2019 paper series editorHeather Sandstrom, Urban Institute