When Pre-K Comes to School: New book from MSU researcher

September 8, 2017

Partnerships between school districts and early childhood sites are growing as a way to provide publicly funded pre-kindergarden in many states. But the model is more complicated than we might think, argues Michigan State University researcher Bethany Wilinski.

Wilinski studied how some of these partnerships are playing out in Wisconsin through the eyes of three preschool teachers. In her new book, she is one of the first to give an insider’s perspective on how these new policies are actually enacted in different contexts.

When Pre-K Comes to School: Policy, Partnerships, and the Early Childhood Workforce” was published in March 2017 by Teachers College Press.

The way we treat teachers

When public school districts provide preschool to all children, sometimes in the elementary buildings themselves, there is increasing recognition that pre-K is an important form of education, said Wilinski, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education. “But I don’t think that really helped to raise the status of the early childhood teachers.”

One teacher in her book was a kindergarten teacher assigned to teach pre-K in a public elementary school; and two taught public pre-K in early childhood settings, one in a private preschool and one in a corporate childcare center. Although there was an expectation that they would receive higher pay, professional development and better working conditions typically afforded to their elementary school counterparts, that wasn’t really the case, said Wilinski.

“The way we treat teachers says something about how we value pre-K,” she said. “If we are not willing to support them, then I think that undermines the policy.”

Wilinski plans to study the experiences of public pre-K teachers in other states. She recently received a grant from the Spencer Foundation to support research on teachers in Michigan’s public pre-K program, the Great Start Readiness Program.

This qualitative study will compare the experiences of Great Start teachers in public schools across two intermediate school districts. She hopes to illuminate the key factors that structure pre-K teachers’ work experiences in public schools and to reveal potential policy directions for improving pre-K teacher recruitment and retention efforts.

She is also conducting research on pre-primary teacher training in Tanzania as part of MSU’s Partnerships for Sustainable Development.