a conversation with…
Bruce Fuller
Sociologist Dr. Bruce Fuller focuses his research on how families, civic activists and policymakers lift the learning and well-being of children, especially the growth of young children, including the tension between large institutions and the varying ideals of child rearing pressed by diverse parents. Fuller is a a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education. A California native, he previously served as education advisor to the state’s Legislature.
Bruce Fuller
How many more 4-year-olds will potentially be served in California with full implementation?
The census bureau says California has just over 500,000 4-year-olds and there are about 90,000 in transitional kindergarten currently. The Department of Finance is assuming an 80 percent enrollment rate, which means about 400,000 kids. So, to your question, we’ve got about 310,000 children that should be served with full implementation of the program. One thing to think about is that a third of our districts have 12 or fewer TK kids enrolled — which is a huge chunk of small- and medium-sized districts. TK is actually quite new to them.
Can you provide a quick summary about the benefits TK can offer younger students?
If we can reach a sufficient level of quality, there could be a big payoff from TK, especially in terms of the cognitive and social growth of kids from low-income families. We’ve got about a half century of research now showing that quality preK for 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds yields pretty strong and sometimes sustained effects for poor kids. We know much less about the effects of preK or TK on middle-class kids. But the evidence is pretty clear that for lower-income kids — if we can get the quality right in TK — it will yield pretty strong effects in early language development, pre-literacy skills, social agility for young kids in the classroom, emotional growth.

For the first time, Gov. Newsom proposed to put in the extra money to have a second adult in the classroom. But, again, a lot depends on what the quality looks like in classrooms — how well trained is the credentialed teacher? How well trained is the new aide in the classroom?

teacher giving a high five to one of her students
“If we can get the quality right in TK — it will yield pretty strong effects in early language development, pre-literacy skills, social agility for young kids in the classroom, emotional growth.”
Does California have the capacity and support to train teachers to hit these quality marks?
It’s going to be a huge lift. Financial projections saying the state is going to need about 11,000 additional TK teachers with a multiple subject credential. And we’ll need at least 22,000 — if not 25,000 to 30,000 — classroom aides. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) has been starting to work hard on that piece of it. I think it rides on the extent to which local educational agencies can work with universities to create high-quality preservice programs, number one. And number two, school boards and site principals should create supportive workplaces for these new TK teachers. Because most principals aren’t extremely knowledgeable about 3- and 4-year-olds, they usually aren’t trained in developmentally appropriate classroom practice for that age. So, a lot is going to rest on preservice, and then principals being supportive mentors, supportive managers for all these new early childhood teachers.
How does the universal TK program interact with existing programs, such as Head Start?
Oh, that’s really a prickly issue at the moment. The Head Start Association opposed the Governor’s proposal last year because they fear they’re going to lose all their 4-year-olds to public schools. California spends over a billion dollars a year in child care vouchers that go to organizations like Head Start and they are really nervous about TK in the public schools. So, I think we’re going to have this ongoing, hopefully positive engagement between LEAs and community nonprofits around issues like wraparound services. For example, if TK gets out at 2 in the afternoon, who’s going to provide care in the afternoons? And if TK is just the usual instructional year, then who’s going to provide summer programs? Ideally, this will be a peaceful coexistence between the LEAs and the nonprofit sector, but, at the moment, there’s a lot of suspicion.

Personally, I’m kind of in-between, because if we can get preK teachers into district-based preK jobs, their salaries will go up 50 to 60 percent instantly. So, it would be beneficial for those teachers to get the multiple subject credential. Public schools provide a lot of stability for these programs — it is going to be financed out of Proposition 98, which is a much more stable funding source than the discretionary side of the state budget. So, there are a lot of pluses in terms of the Governor’s decision to put his chips into LEAs, but there’s going to be an ongoing conversation. And every school board should thoughtfully engage the nonprofit sector in their locales because they are going to need those nonprofits for wraparound summer programs and these sorts of cooperative efforts with school districts.

Let’s talk about basic aid districts that do not receive specific funding for the universal TK initiative. What policy considerations do you think should be made for those saying they cannot implement a program without specific funding?
TK programs are super small in most basic aid districts, even in the bigger districts. And of course, an issue is that we have a lot of low-income kids in basic aid districts. For example, Santa Clara Unified and Mountain View Whisman SD are both basic aid districts. While they are home to Google, they are also home to low-income families. It’s a tough one because on the one hand, the Legislature wants to incentivize these basic aid districts to provide these kinds of programs themselves because they do have relatively wealthy tax spaces. On the other hand, we might need a more targeted incentive for these districts to expand preK or universal TK. The Legislature, for example, could say that, if you’re going to fund TK programs for kids below the poverty line or kids that meet the requirements of unduplicated pupils for the Local Control Funding Formula, then the state will help support those kids. I think that would be a more surgical incentive to allow basic aid districts to serve these children. And then, if those districts wanted to expand TK for middle-class and upper-middle class students, then they could raise their tax rate a little bit to do that. But I think the Legislature’s current position does a disservice for tens of thousands of low-income families in these districts, and therein lies the dilemma.
teacher helping out his elementary students
“Financial projections saying the state is going to need about 11,000 additional TK teachers with a multiple subject credential. And we’ll need at least 22,000 — if not 25,000 to 30,000 — classroom aides.“
Can you tell us more about teacher preparation for the universal TK initiative?
The CTC put out a request for applications for planning grants to create or expand credential pathways for TK teacher candidates. The commission is going to fund a hundred different partnerships between LEAs and universities to expand teacher training. I think it’s a shared strategy in terms of the CTC wanting to incent universities to get together with LEAs to expand preservice training. But then you also to incentivize districts to start in their planning process, because, come August, they have to deliver on this. I think the CDE is moving on this with the UPK Planning and Implementation Grant Program, but districts just received that information [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in mid-January]. Now, you have about six months before you have to have classrooms open. So, I think the bureaucratic delays in the department have been unfortunate because it’s going to make school board members and district staff even more anxious about what this is all about.

I think the other missing link here is that while there are some facilities dollars in the pipeline, they flow very slowly through the state control board. We have districts throughout the state that need to renovate classrooms and the facilities money is going through this very small spigot out to districts. A lot of the key cornerstones are not quite in place, even though school boards are going to be under enormous pressure to create more TK slots by August.

What are some key steps that districts without a transitional kindergarten program can take to begin the process?
Well, find a consultant really fast, right? But more specifically, they first have to take stock of their teaching staff. Are there teachers in other grades that might be moved down to TK? Is there shrinking enrollment in certain grade levels where you could reassign teachers with multiple subject credentials? If not, how do we work with local universities or county offices to train new TK teachers with a multiple subject credential?

There is law on the books that says that if you move a teacher from a higher grade level to TK, they have to have four classes in early childhood development. Some districts are trying to do that, but in the budget language last summer, the Legislature put that on hold. Some districts, however, are electing to provide in-service training and four community college courses in child development when they bump teachers down. School boards have some options on reassignment and ways to use the new teacher training money that is going to hit the field this spring.

Facilities, which we talked about briefly, are a huge issue: you need little toilets, you need little desks. There are design and facilities questions that school board members are going to face. And another issue is how to develop cooperative relationships with the nonprofit sector so they can provide wraparound services after school and in summer. Summer programs are important because if schools don’t provide that, I think a lot of parents will keep their kids in the current arrangement of state preK or they’ll keep paying an arm and a leg in a private nonprofit. Without a full-day, full-year program, LEAs might have a hard time really pulling kids in. School board members can play a big role in working out these relationships with the nonprofit sector.

How else can boards support this work for schools? What are the top priorities that boards need to be focusing on now to help this work along by August?
I’ve talked to a couple rural counties recently and they are turning to the county offices. Where we’ve seen the most growth in TK since 2012 are big, urban districts that have early childhood administrators. So, they might be running Head Start, a state preK and then they have expertise to expand TK, but in medium and small districts, you may not have anybody in the district office who knows this field. I would encourage those districts to be in touch with their county offices.

I also think reaching out to whatever education agency is nearby that can help them out is super important. And then I think the board and district superintendents have to work with their principals to get them up to speed about the importance and benefits of TK. How might classrooms look different for 4-year-olds compared to 9-year-olds? Just making sure that principals aren’t lining up 4-year-olds at desks in rows and going through the state standards, but they think about young kids differently. And they think about the social-emotional side as well as the cognitive and linguistic side. Here at Berkeley, we’re getting state money from the California Department of Education to do leadership training with principals. The department is thinking broadly and they are putting out money to expand existing in-service leadership programs at Berkeley and UCLA to now include early childhood and TK. So, there’ll be some resources and some trainings going on that school board school boards could tap into.

Is the CTC considering any additional courses that TK teacher candidates need to take to get a credential specifically for TK?
The CTC is having this conversation now, considering what courses are required currently for the multiple subject credential and if the configuration of courses. There’s talk about a P-3 credential as an alternative. Labor and management groups have some valid worries about that in terms of teachers wanting to maintain flexibility in their careers. The P-3 credential, I think, is going to be a long-term conversation. But I think there does have to be an effort made if we stick with multiple subject credentialing for this group — we’ve got to rethink the mixture of courses. For example, in that credential, there’s a lot of time spent on teaching mathematics to elementary school kids or teaching English language arts. And TK teachers need some of that, but it has to be framed differently and nurtured in different ways. I think there are a lot of early childhood groups talking to the CTC members about how we rethink this credentialing for TK teachers.