Those of us who went through preschool remember little more than nursery rhymes, chocolate pudding and the swing set. But as national standards increase, preschoolers today are acquiring basic skills in writing, mathematics and social interaction.
Statistics show that students enrolled in preschool enter kindergarten with stronger academic and social skills than their peers and students having been through preschool perform better in elementary school.
“I know my daughter will improve a lot by going to preschool, but I want her to go to a preschool where she will actually learn, and not just be babysat,” said Mai Tran of Irvine, who has a 3-year-old daughter who will attend preschool this fall.
As parents search for quality preschools, preschools in turn are looking to hire more qualified educators. Schools like Vanguard University in Costa Mesa are trying to help educators meet that need.
Funded by the California Department of Education, the Child Development Training Consortium has created the Child Development Permit Matrix, outlining the requirements for six levels of educators in state preschools: teacher’s assistant, associate teacher, teacher, master teacher, site supervisor and program director. Educators at each level are authorized to care for and assist in the instruction of children and can supervise educators at lower levels.
Teachers in California’s public preschools need to have either an associate’s degree in early childhood education (ECE), or at least 24 completed units of ECE courses, 16 units of general education courses and experience.
Private preschools have three permit options: teacher’s assistant, teacher and director. Assistant teachers require six ECE units, teachers require 12 units, and directors require 12 units and an additional administration course.
Although a degree is not required for educators to be licensed, as preschool standards are shifting to a greater academic focus, and parents’ demands on preschool continue to increase, more schools, including private and faith-based, are demanding degrees of their educators. As a result, many early educators need to return to school to obtain more units or a degree in ECE.
“I’m seeking a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education so I can continue to be a lead teacher at Head Start because in the next few years every lead teacher at Head Start will be required to have a bachelor’s degree,” said Mary Schreiner, 39, of Huntington Beach, a Vanguard University student.
Schreiner and almost 200 other students from all over California and beyond selected Vanguard to complete coursework to meet licensing and ongoing professional development requirements for educators.
Vanguard, in Costa Mesa, is a private Christian university of liberal arts and professional studies that offers 21 undergraduate majors and three graduate degrees.
One of the graduate degrees is the Child Development Program that offers online associate’s and bachelor’s degrees and other online ECE courses. The online bachelor’s degree program was recently ranked No. 16 in the United States by TheBestSchools.org, which ranks college and degree programs in different categories and says it is an independent organization with no ties to any other educational institution.
“Most of our students are adult learners returning to school or seeking a new career path,” said Shari Farris, faculty chair of Early Childhood Education at Vanguard. “Most are parents and work full time. They have very busy lives. The accelerated fully online format works well for them.”
In comparison to in-class courses at other universities, each of Vanguard’s online courses is based on an accelerated eight-week format rather than a traditional 16-week semester format, allowing students to complete the ECE coursework requirements within two years.
“The faculty that teaches in the program consists of highly-educated practitioners with years of teaching and leadership experience,” said Farris. “Despite the online format, our faculty works to intentionally build relationships with students through discussions, meaningful and relevant coursework, faith integration and mentoring.”
The online bachelor’s degree costs approximately $19,500 or $375 per unit, with books costing about $100 per class.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an early educator in 2012 was $25,000 a year. Early educators with a bachelor’s degree and a focus in a specific area, such as special education, earned $51,000 on average in 2012.
“I chose the field of ECE because in a career like this, money doesn’t matter,” said Kristina Olsen, 25, of Oakland and a candidate for a bachelor’s degree at Vanguard University. “The rewards are emotional rather than financial. The ultimate reward of working with children is in seeing how each child grows and becomes their own person.”