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The solution to everything

June 14, 2010

None of their preschool teachers had college degrees

What’s better than an unfunded mandate? An unfunded mandate levied against people with no, you know, funding. Like pre-school teachers, for instance, who may now be required to have an undergraduate degree to work in the state of Massachusetts:

Once considered just places to play, preschools now sandwich science and math lessons in between naps and recess. To help teachers meet the new academic rigor and to reduce socioeconomic achievement gaps that start before kindergarten, the state wants more teachers to earn bachelor’s degrees.

Less than a third of early childhood educators who teach in private programs, where the vast majority of the state’s preschoolers are enrolled, hold bachelor’s degrees, and many are at education levels barely higher than a high school diploma, according to a report released this spring by Strategies for Children Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group in Boston.

Nationwide, the report found that 50 percent of early educators have a bachelor’s degree.

It must have given the education-obsessed legislators of this state the chills to think that we were below the national average in pre-school teacher degrees. I mean, my God, a national average must include places like Kansas and Tennessee, if those haven’t been folded into the Harvard University campus yet.

In my experience, pre-school teachers come in three basic varieties:

  1. Grad students. We probably have more of these than most cities, because we’re lousy with universities, but these are the fresh-faced 20-somethings earning real-life experience for some class called “Practicum in Spit Bubbles” or “Nutritional Elements of Play-Doh” so that he or she can go on to one day be not a pre-school teacher, but, say, a legislator who writes laws requiring pre-school teachers to have college degrees.
  2. Mid- to late-middle-age moms. These are generally folks who either studied early childhood education but never finished their degrees–often because they put it all on hold to raise their own kids–or moms whose experience raising their own kids is their only qualification. They tend to work in pre-schools because it’s a hell of a lot better then working at Starbucks.
  3. Immigrant moms. Same as above, but from a foreign country and not strictly qualified, often because of language barriers, to do many other kinds of work. If they can find work in a place where everyone speaks their native language, and at least a few of them also speak English, then they can get a paycheck every week and enjoy the good things in life.

I’m guessing that, generally, numbers two and three on this list probably aren’t in the best position to put their lives on hold, go into five- or six-figures of debt, and get college degrees. The state pushed through a scholarship program in 2005, the article explains, that provides teachers enrolled in community colleges (where you can’t get a bachelor’s degree, by the way) with $150 per credit, and those enrolled in private colleges with $400 per credit. So, let’s see, if you’re financially able to earn no income for a few years and go to school full-time, while also, let’s say, taking care of your two or three kids, you might be working on 16-20 credits, which comes out to $6,000-8,000 per semester. That should just about do it, right?

People in this state have such a hard-on for college that they generally assume it solves most any problem. Education gap? Make the teachers go to college! Dandruff? College! There’s probably a way to solve Islamic extremism if we can just get those assholes matriculated.

On my kids’ collective 10 years of life, they’ve gone to four different private pre-schools, and if a single one of those teachers had a college degree, I’d be shocked. But among those teachers, we’ve also had some of the most caring, nurturing, intelligent educators I’ve known yet, including the fine folks at the public pre-school my son went to, where higher education is required. Because unbeknownst to MA legislators, a college education doesn’t necessarily guarantee workplace competence or anything else.

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