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UC Merced Leading Effort to Boost Number of Early Childhood Teachers with $1.8 Million

January 19, 2023
A child plays with blocks in a classroom.
The University of California Transitional Kindergarten Residency Program will be housed at UC Merced.

To ensure the youngest students are ready for the K-12 education system, UC Merced is leading a joint effort to attract and prepare more transitional kindergarten (TK) teachers to serve in classrooms in the Central Valley and across California.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has awarded $1.5 million to the Merced County Office of Education in partnership with UCs Merced, LA and Berkeley to implement the University of California Transitional Kindergarten (UCTK) Residency Program, which will be developed over the next year and housed at the UC Merced Extension Teacher Preparation Program.

The UC Office of the President will add $300,000 to the initiative to support fellowships for graduate-level teacher trainees, including those whose status falls under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — also known as "Dreamers."

TK is often described as a steppingstone between preschool and kindergarten. State lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom aim to extend universal pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds by 2026. But the scarcity of new teachers has slowed implementation, a snag Newsom confronts in his new budget.

"The governor will deliver for children and families only if we produce additional high-quality, pre-K teachers," UC Merced Extension Director of Education Programs Mari Harris said. "The University of California can help lead this effort and assess what innovative forms of teacher training prove most effective."

Harris, who will lead the new statewide effort from UC Merced, made clear this is a collaborative effort between multiple local education agencies and UCs: Merced County Office of Education with UC Merced, Los Angeles Unified School District with UCLA and Oakland Unified School District with UC Berkeley.

"Investing in our early education teachers is investing in the future of our children and our community," Merced County Superintendent of Schools Steve Tietjen said. "This partnership and the commitment to early childhood education will create positive impacts for schools and students across Merced County."

Pending approval by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the plan is to have the first teacher residents enrolled in the summer of 2024. The program will focus on three regions — Merced, LA and Oakland — with each area having approximately 20 candidates per year. All school sites will include mentors and other support to assist the candidates with the yearlong process.

People interested in the program will need to have received their bachelor's degree and completed other requirements by the time they enroll. After being placed in a school site, teaching about 20 hours a week, in addition to other requirements, they will have the opportunity to become employed.

The hope is that experienced pre-K teachers, including those with years of experience in Head Start and other community-based programs, will also enroll to help advance their careers and receive better wages and benefits.

Leaders also hope to create a seamless pipeline for preparing high-quality pre-K teachers and classroom aides, and to strengthen collaborations between local education agencies and universities.

CalMatters and other institutes estimate by 2025-26, over 500,000 California 4-year-olds will be eligible to enroll in transitional kindergarten, which will require roughly 12,000 to 16,000 TK teachers and 16,000 to 20,000 assistants in these classrooms.