The notion that a strong early childhood education and care (ECEC) knowledge base, which involves a set of professional competencies, abilities and specific teaching skills, can lead to high-quality ECEC and positive child developmental outcomes is yet to be fully determined (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001; Vartuli, 1999). This is due, in some instances, to lack of good data, the quality of the method employed to measure the relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood learning environment, and the methods used to aggregate the findings of individual empirical studies. The lack of consensus regarding the direction (positive in this case) and strength of the relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood learning environment has made it difficult for policy makers and educational practitioners to form strategies that will ultimately enhance the early learning outcomes of children.
The objective of this review is to synthesise the extant empirical evidence on the relationship of teacher qualifications to the quality of the early childhood learning environment. Specifically, we address the question:
Is there a relationship between the level and type of education of the lead teacher, and the quality of the early childhood learning environment, as measured by the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale and their revised versions?
Studies were identified by exploring a large number of relevant academic journals (e.g., Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Early Childhood Research and Practice, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Child Development, Applied Developmental Science, and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry) and electronic databases (e.g., Academic Search Premier; CBCA-Education; Cochrane Controlled Trial Register; Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (DARE); Dissertation Abstracts; EconLit; Education Full Text; Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC); Journal Storage Archive (JSTOR); Medline; Proquest Digital Dissertations; Proquest Direct; Project Muse; PsychInfo; Scopus; SocINDEX with Full Text; and SSRN eLibrary). We also searched the reference list of each eligible study, and reviewed the biographies and publication lists of influential authors in the field of early childhood development and education, to determine if there were any relevant studies not retrieved in the original search.
Selection criteria are based on both comparative and correlational studies that examine the relationship between teacher qualification and quality of the ECEC environment (as measured by ECERS/ECERS-R/ITERS/ITERS-R and any subscales) from 1980 (this was when the ECERS was introduced) to 2014. Eligible studies, therefore, report at least one of the following results: (1) the overall ERS ratings (main outcome); (2) ratings of the seven subscales – program structure (i.e. focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities), activities (i.e. focusing on the provision and quality of activities including fine motor, art, music, dramatic play and math/number), language and reasoning (i.e. focusing on the formal and informal use of language, development of reasoning skills and communication), parent and staff needs (i.e. focusing on the provisions for personal and professional needs of staff and parents, and staff interaction and cooperation), space and furnishing (i.e. focusing on the quality of items including indoor space, furniture for routine care, room arrangement and space for privacy), interactions (i.e. focusing on discipline as well as supervision and facilitation of proper interactions between children and staff and among children) and personal care routines (i.e. focusing on teaching and practice of routines including greeting/departing, meals/snacks, toileting/diapering, health and safety); and (3) the two subscales - language and interactions, and provisions for learning.
The systematic search identified 2,023 unique studies on the relationship of teacher qualifications to the quality of the early childhood learning environment, of which 80 were obtained. A final set of 48 studies was eligible for inclusion in our meta-analysis. Data analysis was conducted using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis 2.0 (CMA), a statistical meta-analysis software package. Both correlation coefficients and mean standardized differences were converted to a common effect size - in this study a correlation coefficient (r).
We examined possible moderators of process quality in ECEC settings including: (1) teacher qualification; (2) baseline characteristics of teacher; (3) country in which the study was conducted; (4) duration of follow-up; (5) outcome measure; and (6) dominant ethnicity of student group. Quality and accessibility of data limited us to exploring only the outcome measure (e.g., ECERS vs. ITERS) and dominant ethnicity of student group.
We employ a random effects model for pooling intervention effects. An assumption is made that there are unexplained sources of heterogeneity across studies. The Q statistic, which was calculated in each fixed effect analysis, was used for the calculation of the τ2. In addition, we employ the I2 statistic (Higgins & Thompson, 2002) as an additional, albeit related, method of assessing heterogeneity.
In this review we assess the correlation between teacher qualifications and measures of ECEC quality. There were 82 independent samples available for meta-analysis: 58 assessed the overall quality of ECEC as an outcome and 24 assessed ratings of Environment Rating Scales (ERS) subscales. The relationship between teacher qualifications and overall ECEC quality demonstrate a positive correlation that was statistically significant (mean correlation with robust standard error, assuming ρ = .80 (r=0.198, confidence limits 0.133, 0.263)). When overall quality was disaggregated by measurement method (e.g. ECERS, ECERS-R), studies that measured ECEC quality using different scales produced a non-significant difference.
Below, in descending order of effect size (correlation coefficient r), results (for the 7 factor subscales) show:
In descending order of effect size, the 2 factor subscale outcomes evaluated show:
This review shows the significant association between having lead teachers with higher qualifications and the overall structural and process quality within ECEC settings. In this review, ECEC settings consist of centre-based classroom environments serving children of all ages (birth to prior to elementary/primary school age). The meta-analysis has drawn on a wide range of literature from 1980 onwards to provide statistically significant results on the relationship of teacher qualification to the quality of the early childhood learning environment. The learning environment consists of program structure, activities, language and reasoning, parent and staff, space and furnishing, interactions and personal care routines. In a two way-factor classification, the meta-analysis also reflects a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and ratings on language and interactions and provision for learning within ECEC settings. This means that higher teacher qualifications are related to improvements in supporting children’s development, including supporting language-reasoning experience, supervision and the scheduling of activities, organization and arrangement of the room, providing varied social experiences for children, and creating a warm and friendly environment for interactions.
The results are important for governments and stakeholders wanting to improve early childhood services to enhance children and family outcomes. Quality is closely linked to the level of staff qualification, which may indicate that it is important to have teachers with qualification higher than secondary education working with young children. The professionalization of the early childhood sector through more qualified staff may lead to significant gains for children and their families, contributing towards life-long outcomes that will benefit all of society.