Theses Doctoral

A Critical Race Narrative Analysis of New York City Early Childhood Teachers' Constructions of Teacher Certification and Teaching Quality

Buffalo, Gail Russell

Growing national attention to the importance of early childhood education (ECE) has led many cities and states to abandon debates pertaining to whether and for whom Pre-Kindergarten (PK) should be available in favor of the establishment of Universal PK (UPK). UPK programs have been framed as an investment in human capital to improve standards and performance and achieve economic payoffs that will afford high returns on investment—improving future employment, lowering rates of incarceration, etc. Such an investment narrative is predicated on high-quality UPK programs; this has meant that in New York City (NYC), UPK teachers were expected to be certified by New York State. Situating my study within the growing educational research literature on the problems with teacher certification tests, which found that such tests disadvantage Teachers of Color, this qualitative study employed critical race theory to examine the racialization of teacher certification test success and failure, combining three individual life history interviews, a critical participatory focus group, and dyad.

Through interviews, it sought to understand how ECE teachers of Color in NYC conceptualized teaching quality within the context of institutional discourses and official definitions of teaching quality. Employing critical narrative analysis, I attended to the interplay between policy discourses and personal lived experiences via conversational narratives recounting their experiences of licensure test failure, inquiring into how they negotiated institutional definitions of qualified teacher with their own understandings and lived experiences pertaining to teacher qualification. Focus groups served as sites for the co-creation of counter-narratives to the institutional narrative of teacher licensure indexing teacher quality.

Findings point toward how current policy conceptions of teacher quality as teacher licensure gives continuation to a long history of teacher licensure tests being used as a racist tool to protect whiteness in the teaching profession. This is particularly problematic in light of the growing majority of young children in today’s early childhood classrooms combined with the proven benefits children of Color have from having Teachers of Color. As such, implications point toward the need to disentangle conceptualizations of teacher quality and qualification from teacher licensure testing.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Interdisciplinary Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Souto-Manning, Mariana
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2021