Editorial: Universal preschool: Great idea, but who will teach it?

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

This Sunday’s episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press” brought a little bit of Pittsburgh to its viewers.

During a four-minute interview on the popular news program, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto brought his city’s ambitions to national attention. The main topic of discussion: education.

In the interview, Peduto spoke of a national interest in “universal education for 4-year-olds,” purporting that the country would benefit from the creation of a public system for preschool education. If given the chance, Peduto said Pittsburgh could “run with the ball” towards being one of the cities to lead the way with this new policy.

Peduto is already lobbying for federal funds for preschool education — he named a 20-member panel last month to secure grants. But it’s “not about political bickering,” according to Peduto. “Washington has to understand it’s about getting the job done,” the mayor said, suggesting The White House and Congress must compromise for Pittsburgh and, eventually, the nation, to reach this goal.

The overall goal — universal preschool education — is admirable, as it has the potential to bring benefits. After all, science has supported the old saying that the brain being similar to a sponge in our youth. Effective education during this sensitive time of life is essential as it sets the tone for one’s entire educational career.

But that’s the unanswered question: how do we effectively educate young kids?

It’s one thing to push for universal access to preschool education, and it is obviously a necessary first step. But what exactly this education will entail is an entirely different issue.

First, we must look at our instructors to understand how we can achieve effective and productive preschool education.

Currently, education and training requirements for preschool teachers vary state to state but, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, preschool teachers possess anything from a high school diploma to an associate’s degree. If we want to integrate preschools into universal, public education, we will have to regulate it as such. That means teaching requirements will inevitably change to include higher degrees as a prerequisite.

Seeing that most fresh-faced teachers cannot find steady jobs without having prior teaching experience, integrating preschools into the public education system may be an appropriate starting point. Instead of job searching, new teachers can gain experience by teaching preschoolers while they are still excited about entering the education field. So similar to Teach for America, prospective teachers can go into preschool education directly after graduation to gain hands on experience.

This is important, because children at the preschool level should grow to be excited about learning  — something they can gain from a young teacher with the sufficient energy and motivation.  Those going into education must then learn how to work with children and, more specifically, how to encourage excitement in students for discovering new knowledge, whether it is related to science, math or the English language. And, hopefully, this excitement will follow students all the way to high school and college.

Now that the discussion on the importance of preschool education is rolling, we must seriously consider how to execute this new policy. The answer lies in not necessarily how we will teach preschoolers but how we will teach the teachers.