Early warning

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In an era when an increasing number of K-12 teachers get master's degrees, the Economic Policy Institute has released a report showing a steady decline in the degrees earned by early childhood teachers. Since 1983, the percentage of early childhood teachers with even a bachelor's degree has fallen from 43% to 30%.

And the trend shows no signs of abating: the least educated early childhood teachers are the ones entering the field, while the best educated are industry veterans in their late fifties. As the industry has expanded to serve more middle- and working-class parents, the demand for EC teachers has far outpaced the number of college grads willing to do the low-paying work.

But does it really matter if a preschool teacher has a college degree? The authors cite a 2000 study, which found that "both overall education levels and training specific to early care and education are related to positive outcomes for children," but also acknowledge that the effectiveness of the teaching industry standard of a bachelor's degree continues to be debated.

There's no question, however, that preschool teachers need to be literate, conversing with children on many topics and contributing to their students' own language growth. To the extent that those skills are cultivated in the pursuit of a college degree, it's safe to presume that a college education adds value.