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Michigan’s Birth to Kindergarten Certificate Professionalizes Early Learning Workforce

In 2019, Michigan narrowed its teacher licensure bands to better equip new teachers with developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills for teaching the state’s preK-3 learners. Now Michigan has added a birth-K certificate that aligns with classroom needs for the youngest learners and helps to professionalize the early learning workforce. A new NASBE analysis details how the Michigan State Board of Education, working closely with the state education agency, is expanding opportunities to improve early educators’ preparation.

Of all 62 state-funded pre-K programs across the United States, only 37 programs in 30 states require lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. Outside publicly funded programs, however, no state requires bachelor’s degrees for pre-K teachers, and most states require only a high school diploma.

“Michigan’s birth-K grade band signals that early childhood educators are vital to a birth-12 educational system that supports young children through their schooling and ensures that preparation programs focus on specialized skills necessary for reaching this age group,” write NASBE’s Winona Hao and Joseph Hedger.

The new certification incorporates emerging and developmental skills specific to birth-K children and addresses elements not yet covered by other certificates. It includes sections on whole-child development, including social-emotional development and the role of play; special education; building family and community relationships; and content knowledge and pedagogy.

Stakeholder engagement was critical. The department leveraged the expertise of researchers, professors, practitioners, teachers, and principals to develop standards for what a birth-K teacher needs to know and be able to do, including at the infant and toddler level, and convened stakeholder committees to review the standards at several points in the process. It also ensured that diverse perspectives from across Michigan were represented as well. This helped to build trust and support for the restructuring and allowed the department to navigate tensions and anticipate objections during the public comment period.

Hao and Hedger urge states to leverage the $39 billion in child care relief funds through the federal American Rescue Plan to further investments in the early childhood workforce. “States can prepare for the new year’s pre-K classrooms by taking steps, as Michigan has, to ensure that its educators are well prepared to address students’ developmental, social-emotional, and academic needs.”

Read and share “Michigan Adds Certificate for Birth to Kindergarten Teachers.”

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at


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