Research on Early Childhood Teacher Education: Evidence From Three Domains and Recommendations for Moving Forward

From Section:
Theories & Approaches
Feb. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34(1), p. 95–112, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to illustrate the characteristics, key features, and significant gaps in current Early Childhood Teacher Education (ECTE) research by way of examples from several important domains, and to identify the kinds of research that are most needed to address the question posed in this special issue.

The Characteristics and Impact of ECTE Research
To address critical issues in ECTE, this article conceptualized the elements of faculty, content, and pedagogy exert interconnected influences on graduates within the higher education system. Each of these elements can vary in quality, and each may have more-or-less positive influences on how higher education may shape ECTE graduates’ practices.
In addition, each program’s institutional setting, specific program/degree type, and available resources, also impact the characteristics and quality of ECTE.

Furthermore, ECTE programs are directly impacted by an array of national and state standards, policies, and certification requirements.
And finally, once graduates enter the classroom, their ECTE preparation becomes only one of many influences on their practices, which in turn impacts child and family outcomes.

Illustrations From Three Domains in ECTE
The authors will provide illustrations in three domains of ECTE:
addressing the needs of young children with disabilities;
understanding and working effectively with infants and toddlers; and
building young children’s competence and interest in mathematics.

Addressing Common Gaps—Future Research on ECTE

The authors identify five crosscutting research priorities, using examples from the domains just described.

1. Develop Systematic Approaches to Data Collection on Critical Content-Area Requirements in Early Childhood Teacher Education
Although the authors have more information about course requirements than about any other aspect of ECTE, these data have not been regularly updated and are not easily available to researchers—a serious problem in the rapidly evolving world of higher education.

2. Go Beyond Counting Courses and Credits to Examine Patterns in Course Content, Methods, and Field Experiences
Even with a more systematic, regular process in place to collect data on courses and field experiences in higher education, the most accurate, up-to-date information on the number and titles of courses required in ECTE programs could tell us little or nothing about what is included in programs’ courses and field experiences.

3. Develop, Field Test, and Rigorously Evaluate Innovative, Evidence-Based Approaches to ECTE in These and Other Domains
The lack of such research has been a theme throughout this discussion.
Future researchers will need to go beyond descriptions of one instructor’s or one program’s course design or field experience to compare different approaches, using larger samples, evaluating potential impacts both on graduates’ practices and children’s related outcomes.

4. Develop and Evaluate a Variety of Tools to Assess Preservice Students’ Competencies, Beliefs, and Attitudes Within and Across These and Other Domains
Because so little research has been done on ECTE, researchers may wish to draw upon a variety of assessment approaches used either in studies of currently practicing teachers or in domains other than the one that they are interested in studying.

5. Develop, Field Test, and Rigorously Evaluate Practical Approaches to Faculty Development in These and Other Domains
Whether in the domain of disabilities, infant/toddler development, or mathematics, there needs to be a dual focus on faculty development for
(a) instructors who provide specialized content and
(b) those who teach general curriculum or child development courses in which this content is or can be incorporated.

A Supportive Environment for ECTE Research

They conclude by describing what is needed to create a supportive environment that produces—and implements—early childhood teacher education research.

Collaboration among those who are skilled in qualitative and quantitative research, including both small and large samples.
A coherent, programmatic research agenda going beyond a collection of specific studies stemming only from the interests of an individual or small group.
A well-prepared pipeline of future ECTE researchers prepared both in terms of content knowledge of ECTE and in the array of methods needed to conduct highquality research.
Support from funders and policy makers to build the field’s capacity to train researchers and to conduct the kind of research needed. Because of federal mandates, this support has been evident in preparing personnel in the inclusion/disabilities field but is equally needed in other areas.
Focused attention to “implementation science” to help faculty and institutions thoughtfully apply the results of current and future research on ECTE—including and beyond the domains discussed here.


The authors conclude that collective efforts across disciplines and methodological boundaries are likely to produce the kind of knowledge needed to ensure the most effective approaches to ECTE at all levels and in all domains.

Updated: Dec. 19, 2019
Disabilities | Early childhood education | Educational research | Evidence | Higher education | Mathematics education