The state should ensure that its teacher preparation programs provide early childhood teachers with age-appropriate content knowledge and instructional strategies. This goal was new in 2017 and was not graded.
Massachusetts offers a PreK-2 early childhood education license. Candidates are required to pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Early Childhood Education test and the Foundations of Reading test.
Emergent Literacy and Oral Language: Massachusetts's required Foundations of Reading test directs candidates to demonstrate an understanding of the main components of emergent literacy, including concepts of print, phonemic and phonological awareness, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. The test references oral language in the context of phonemic and phonological awareness, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension.
Emergent Mathematics and Science: Massachusetts's required MTEL Early Childhood Education test requires candidates to: "Understand principles and concepts of mathematics." Candidates show competence in this component by demonstrating knowledge of basic math concepts such as number operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis.
Early Childhood Development: Massachusetts's required MTEL Early Childhood Education test measures candidates on their understanding of "child development from prenatal through the early elementary years." Topics under this test competency include:
Ensure that all preschool teachers possess sufficient knowledge of emergent mathematics and science.
Massachusetts should—either through teacher preparation standards or test frameworks—ensure that all preschool teachers understand how to introduce and develop children's mathematical skills and effectively introduce science concepts. This understanding is crucial because early introduction to complex mathematical concepts can affect later achievement in mathematics.
Ensure that all preschool teachers possess the skills to create a positive and productive classroom environment.
Massachusetts should ensure that all preschool teachers possess adequate understanding of how to develop children's executive functioning skills, build social emotional skills and manage children's play for learning purposes. This knowledge is critically important to ensuring that all preschool teachers are able to establish an environment that actively supports learning.
Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state also noted that in June of 2017, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved revised regulatory language that grants the state department the authority to develop (and update) guidelines for the Subject-Matter Knowledge (SMK) requirements used by providers to design teacher preparation programs and by the state in developing items and cut-scores for the MTEL. Massachusetts added that the state has begun convening working groups from the field to update the SMKs in alignment with the 2013 MA Curriculum Frameworks. This will mean substantial revisions to expectations for teacher candidates in all programs with a focus on literacy across the subject areas and an emphasis on college and career readiness for students.
A strong preschool experience can set children up for achievement gains in elementary school, and even more critically, for improved long-term outcomes including college attendance and degree completion. However, not all preschool programs have achieved these positive results. To increase the likelihood that children will reap benefits from attending preschool, states should ensure that the preschool teachers have certain essential skills and knowledge.
To lay children's foundation for learning to read—and to open the door to other areas of learning—teachers must understand how to develop children's oral language skills and build children's emergent literacy. Especially for young children who are already behind, preschool teachers can play a critical role in language development. Emergent literacy encompasses a range of skills that are essential to reading, but may not come naturally to all children. These skills include phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, learning the alphabet, and concepts of print. Teacher training in these areas can translate into substantial gains for children in alphabet knowledge, vocabulary, and language skills. The early introduction of language and literacy can make a lasting difference for children. Unsurprisingly, children with low language and literacy skills in preschool demonstrate lower reading skills in kindergarten. However, not all approaches to teaching emergent literacy are equally effective, and the quality of preschool curricula varies, making it that much more important that preschool teachers have ample training in how to develop their preschoolers' emergent literacy skills.
Preschool teachers need similar grounding in teaching emergent math and science concepts. Research finds that introducing children to more complex mathematical concepts from an early age may increase their math ability in later years. In fact, some research suggests that the relationship between children's early math skills and future math achievement is twice as strong as the relationship between emergent literacy and future reading achievement. Little research exists on what teachers need to know about preschool science instruction, but experts agree that this area is important.
Beyond knowing what to teach, preschool teachers need to understand the children they are teaching. As such, knowledge of child development from birth to age eight is important. Similarly, preschool teachers need to know effective classroom management strategies that can build social-emotional skills and prevent or resolve many behavioral problems. Of course, classroom management is about more than discipline: it is about establishing an environment that actively supports learning, including understanding how to develop children's executive functioning skills and manage children's play for learning purposes. Teachers' emotional support for their students is associated with better social competence and lower rates of behavior problems.