Understanding Early Childhood Education Workforce Policy: The Relationship between Policy and Teacher Qualification Attainment

Larra Kolby Rucker, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


This dissertation explores the social construction of early childhood (EC) teacher qualification, comprehensive of all key dimensions of qualification (certification, education, experience, and professional development) at the state level using a three-article format and a sequential research design, taking results from articles 1 and 2 to build article 3. First, by examining child care licensing policies regulating EC lead teacher qualification attainment, a subset of EC workforce policy, for all 50 states. Second, by examining the qualification attainment of state EC lead teacher workforces, across all 50 states. Lastly, by examining the relationship between state child care licensing policy regulating qualification attainment and the subsequent qualification of EC lead teachers. Building on previous literature, this dissertation provides a more comprehensive understanding of how policymakers can create change in their respective EC lead teacher workforces. Overall, results demonstrate variation in how EC lead teachers are socially constructed at the state-level and identifies a relationship between the social construction of EC teachers in policy and the resulting qualification of the workforce.

Chapter 2 develops a typology of state child care licensing policies regulating EC lead teacher qualification attainment. The typology serves as a mechanism to understand and compare state policies and permits an identification of how state policies define the essential skills of EC lead teachers. State policies cluster into distinct policy types based on the stringency of regulations. We identify two underlying themes in state policies: a focus on pre-employment qualification (education, certification, experience) versus a focus on post-employment qualification (professional development). This research provides (1) an understanding of child care licensing policies comprehensive of all qualification types, (2) develops a systematic mechanism to compare and understand variations in policy, and (3) informs researchers and policymakers on how minimum standards within regulatory policy (i.e., child care licensing) may support teachers in gaining qualification.

Using secondary data from the National Survey of Early Care and Education on teacher qualification attainment for all 50 states, chapter 3 identifies similarities and variation in EC lead teacher workforces. Results demonstrate that states cluster into groups based on how teachers are qualified (including certification, degrees in EC, and professional development), identifies that state workforces can be understood in regard to the number of qualification types regulated, and identifies associations between professional organization of the workforce and qualification attainment. These results present an opportunity to better understand how EC lead teachers are qualified and thus, permits informed policy decisions.

Chapter 4 analyzes resulting data from chapters 2 and 3 to determine how child care licensing policies and EC lead teacher qualification compare at the state-level. Findings demonstrate that policies influence qualification attainment for EC bachelor’s degree, certification, and professional development. However, there is no relationship between policy and EC associate degree attainment. We contend that with an increase in the stringency of regulations, in line with current recommendations in research, EC lead teacher workforces become more qualified. This information permits policymakers to create and support research-based policy changes as a mechanism to improve EC lead teacher qualification.