The state should require its teacher preparation programs to provide early childhood teachers with age-appropriate content knowledge and instructional strategies. Starting in 2020, this goal is now graded.
New Jersey offers an early childhood education license to teach grades PreK-3. Candidates are required to pass the Praxis Early Childhood Education (5025) test. The state allows an exemption to candidates who have failed to meet the passing score by 5% if they have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Emergent Literacy and Oral Language: The Praxis Early Childhood Education (5025) test requires candidates to demonstrate an understanding of emergent literacy through mastery of the following: "helping students develop an understanding of print awareness, knowledge of phonological awareness in literacy development, the role of fluency in literacy development, and the impact of fluency on reading comprehension."
With regard to oral language, the test framework states that candidates must be able to "Recogn[ize] various stages of language acquisition (e.g., oral language, written language—including spelling)." Because the coverage of the topic is presented as an example, the extent to which this information is required is unclear.
The Early Childhood Education test also includes topics suitable for teachers of students in the elementary grades, including the role of text complexity in reading development and understanding the characteristics of effective writing.
Emergent Mathematics and Scienc e: New Jersey uses the Praxis Early Childhood Education (5025) test to address the concepts of emergent mathematics. Candidates are tested on emergent mathematics concepts that "relate to future mathematical concept development," including: "Recognizes patterns, uses one-to-one correspondence, uses grouping and classification by one or more attributes, uses subitzing, uses sequencing and conservation of number, uses simple directions related to positions and proximity, represents numbers in multiple ways and uses counting and cardinality principles." Candidates are also required to know basic numbers and operations, algebraic thinking, geometry, measurement, and data. Such background is necessary to teach emerging math learners.
With regard to emergent science, the Praxis Early Childhood Education (5025) test requires early childhood candidates to know the scientific process, unifying science concepts (e.g., systems, cycles, constancy and change), as well as basic science skills such as observing, classifying and collecting and analyzing data. The test also covers basic concepts of physical, life, and earth and space science, as well as engineering and technology. Such background is necessary to teach emerging science learners.
Early Childhood Development: New Jersey requires early childhood education candidates to complete coursework that includes: "Child development and learning, including studies designed to foster understanding of the dynamic continuum of development and learning in children from birth through age eight. Required topics are cognitive and linguistic factors that affect learning and development."
Ensure that all preschool teachers possess sufficient knowledge of emergent literacy and oral language.
New Jersey should—either through teacher preparation standards or test frameworks—ensure that all preschool teachers understand how to develop children's oral language skills and build children's emergent literacy. This understanding is important because of the critical role that preschool teachers play in language development.
Ensure that all preschool teachers possess the skills to create a positive and productive classroom environment.
Because well-run classrooms help children develop self-regulation and build academic skills, it is imperative that candidates are adequately prepared to create a positive and productive classroom environment. Skills such as: classroom management, developing a child's executive functions, and creating activities where children can learn through play are critically important to ensuring that all preschool teachers are able to establish an environment that actively supports learning. New Jersey should ensure that all preschool teachers possess adequate understanding of these skills.
New Jersey recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
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.