During the past few years, Texas has increased its focus on improving prekindergarten programs as a means to improve early reading, math, and social development.
To achieve this, districts must ensure that pre-K teachers meet the state requirements for teacher training and qualifications. Participating in ongoing professional development that provides tools for playful, well-planned, and meaningful instruction in the prekindergarten classroom is also important.
HB 4 was passed in the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature (2015) providing $118 million to fund a High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant program. Six hundred and three districts applied for the grant, 599 were eligible to receive the grant, and 573 accepted and received the grant. Funding for the grant was for one year ending on August 31, 2017.
In 2017, the General Appropriations Act, Article III, Rider 78, was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Abbott on June 12, 2017. Rider 78 ensures that state-funded prekindergarten programs implement high-quality programs consistent with the requirements in Texas Education Code (TEC) §29.167–§29.171 and TEC Chapters 41 and 42.
These requirements include the use of a curriculum aligned with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, increased teacher training and qualifications, implementation of student progress monitoring, program evaluation, and development of a family engagement plan. Not less than 15 percent of the 2018–2019 biennium formula funding should be used to implement these requirements. This amount is estimated to be $236 million statewide. The 15 percent funding is calculated using the existing Foundation School Program (FSP) funds that districts and charter schools generate based on four-year-old prekindergarten Average Daily Attendance (ADA).
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website, a teacher in a high-quality prekindergarten program must be appropriately certified under TEC, Chapter 21, Subchapter B, and have one of the following qualifications:
- Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential
- Certification offered through a training center accredited by Association Montessori Internationale or through the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education
- At least eight years of experience teaching in a nationally-accredited child care program
- Graduate or undergraduate degree in early childhood education, early childhood special education, or a non-early childhood education undergraduate degree with a documented minimum of 30 hours of coursework in early childhood education
- Documented completion of Texas School Ready Training Program (TSR Comprehensive)
- Employment as a prekindergarten teacher in a school district or charter that has ensured that:
- prior to assignment in a prekindergarten class, teachers who provide prekindergarten instruction have completed at least 150 cumulative hours of documented professional development addressing the 2015 Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines in addition to other relevant topics related to high-quality prekindergarten over a consecutive five-year period;
- teachers who have not completed training required in subparagraph (i) of this paragraph prior to assignment in a prekindergarten class shall complete:
- the first 30 hours of the 150 cumulative hours of documented professional development before the end of the school year. The professional development shall address topics relevant to high-quality prekindergarten including but not limited to:
- the Revised 2015 Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines,
- the use of student progress monitoring results to inform classroom instruction,
- improving the prekindergarten classroom environment to enhance student outcomes,
- improving the effectiveness of teacher interaction with students as determined by an evaluation tool and
- the additional hours in the subsequent four years in order to continue providing instruction in a high-quality prekindergarten classroom; and
- at least half of the hours required by subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of this paragraph shall include experiential learning, practical application, and direct interaction with specialists in early childhood education, mentors, or instructional coaches. (TAC §102.1003 (e))
A publication on the TEA website, The 2016–17 High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant: The Road to Quality in 10 Texas Districts and Charter Schools, can be used as a guide for school districts as they seek to achieve a high-quality prekindergarten program. This report analyzed ten school districts and charter schools that participated in the High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant program during the 2016–2017 school year. The study was a collaborative effort between the Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC) at American Institutes for Research and TEA. Education Service Centers (ESCs) 1, 4, 10, 19, and 20 provided support and assistance during the site visit component of the project.
The publication states all levels of employees benefited from increased professional development. The most significant impact was providing professional development geared towards a prekindergarten teacher and not pertaining to older students as had customarily been the practice. A list of types of professional development opportunities provided to the staff from the districts in the study was also provided. These included workshops, webinars, conferences, and one-on-one coaching on a wide range of topics.
Also available to school districts and charter staff is a suite of free web-based teacher professional development tools through the Children’s Learning Institute. Information on resources available to early childhood professionals may be found on the Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS) website. The Texas Core Competencies for Administrators and Practitioners also has some key resources including online training modules.
All 20 Texas ESCs provide pre-K-related professional development trainings and workshops. The content covered includes Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, Classroom Instruction, Learning Centers, Classroom Management, Family and Community Engagement, Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD)/Inclusive Classrooms, New Teacher Training, and additional early childhood professional development topics. Training calendars are posted on each of the individual ESC websites.