While Most Early Head Start Teachers Meet the Credential Requirement, Challenges Remain

Aug 25, 2011

By Stephanie Schmit

Early Head Start (EHS) provides high-quality, comprehensive early care and education services to vulnerable young children and their families. The 2007 reauthorization of the Head Start Act required all center-based EHS teachers to have a minimum of a child development associate (CDA) credential and have been trained (or completed equivalent coursework) in early childhood development by Sept. 30, 2010. Research supports the EHS teacher credential and education requirements as early care and education providers with higher levels of education and credentials related to early childhood education are linked to higher-quality early childhood environments and sensitivity. Yet, studies also show that the early childhood workforce faces barriers to completing higher education and training programs. Working individuals need a significant amount of time and financial aid to obtain additional training and education. Adequate compensation is also necessary to ensure that teachers with credentials remain in their jobs.

A recent report on EHS teacher credentials finds that most EHS teachers meet the credential  requirement, but also find challenges to increasing the qualifications of the early childhood workforce persist. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted a study during the 2010-2011 Head Start program year to evaluate progress on the EHS teacher qualification requirement. The study used a sample of 221 EHS programs which included both established programs and programs that were created as a result of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

OIG found that, overall, 81 percent of EHS teachers met the credential requirement. Importantly, OIG found that more than half of the teachers lacking the required credential were currently pursuing it. Teachers in newer programs, funded with ARRA dollars, were less likely to have met the credential requirement. ARRA-funded programs only had one year to prepare to meet the requirements, unlike older programs that have been preparing since 2007. (National data reported by EHS programs show that the share of teachers with a CDA or higher increased from 85 to 88 percent from 2007-2009; and then fell to 86 percent in 2010.)

Nearly all (96 percent) of EHS programs reported requiring teachers to complete ongoing training in a range of different areas, including infant and toddler development, safety issues and communication methods.  

EHS programs reported challenges meeting the credential and training requirements. Programs reported not being able to find enough teachers with credentials to hire. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) suggests that this may be a matter of the demand for credentialed teachers being higher than the supply, particularly as EHS has experienced rapid expansion. Programs also reported challenges to training teachers, including finding substitutes for teachers and managing work schedules.

In addition to changes to the program, the Head Start reauthorization authorized substantial new funding levels. Yet, federal funding failed to reach the levels established in law. While, ARRA funding provided an enormous increase in funding to expand EHS, increases in baseline funding were necessary to support the major changes in the law, including increased teacher qualifications. Coupled with the established challenges to increasing teacher qualifications, it is laudable that EHS is moving forward with increasing the qualifications of its workforce. Increased federal funding in 2012 and beyond will ensure that more teachers get the support they need to achieve higher credentials that support quality environments for our most vulnerable children. 

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