A proposed change to certification for early childhood and elementary school teachers has some local education experts concerned.
The proposal, which was developed by the Office of Educator Quality and is recommended by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, would remove kindergarten from the early childhood certification.
Right now, early childhood certification covers working with birth to third grade and overlaps with elementary certification, which covers grades 1-6. In the proposal, early childhood would be limited to birth to pre-K, and elementary would include grades K-6.
Kathy Thornbrook, a researcher for the Center for Family Policy and Research, doesn't think that is the right move.
"I think it would be a disaster for several reasons," Thornbrook said. "One, there would not be near enough pre-kindergarten teachers being trained" if kindergarten teachers no longer get early childhood training.
Overlapping early childhood and elementary certifications means more qualified preschool teachers, she said. That's important, she said, because there will likely be a need for more preschool teachers as federal and state funding increases.
But Thornbrook also stressed that education and development needs differ from kindergarteners to sixth-graders, which is why she suggests breaking up the early childhood certification into two categories, birth to pre-K and pre-K to third grade.
"I think we need to keep the notion of early childhood being birth through third grade and just have teacher training programs be split into those age groups," she said.
Thornbrook isn't alone in having concerns about the proposal.
Karla DeSpain, a former Columbia Board of Education member who now is involved with two early childhood initiatives, said she has mixed feelings about the proposal. She sees a need for more stringent requirements for certification but said she sees the point that fewer people might seek early childhood education certification if kindergarten is no longer a part of that certification.
"As a … community volunteer, I want to make sure we have the people trained and … educated to work with kids before they get to kindergarten," she said. "I'm not sure what's proposed is going to achieve that."
Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said Columbia Public Schools sees some benefits in the changes, such as the opportunity for education majors in the elementary program to do their student teaching in a kindergarten classroom, which hasn't been possible in the past. But the district also has concerns, he said.
"There is a real concern about the level of training elementary teachers will get on early childhood development if kindergarten teachers are no longer a part of the early childhood certification," he said.
DESE spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the department is still gathering feedback on the proposal, but so far DESE is seeing "a lot of consensus" around keeping the birth-to-third-grade certification. She stressed that nothing has been decided yet.
"We put a proposal out there, but nothing is final until we've gathered all kinds of feedback," Potter said. "We've been really happy to get that feedback and really happy to get a consensus."