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What is Early Childhood Education?

California is the third largest state in the US and some of the biggest cities in the US, comes the highest population as well. According to recent data, California currently has over 2,000 “top” private preschool programs and over 235,000 children in various preschool programs around the state. There are also at least 560 elementary school districts and a flourishing kindergarten system. If you’re multi- or bilingual, there are special programs that need your help, with California introducing more language acceptance to the classroom than ever before by integrating its cultural diversity into its teaching programs. With all this, and the option to live in whatever climate you choose, in a roaring city or the quiet countryside, being an early childhood educator never looked so good..

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Steps to Become an Early Childhood Education Teacher in California

Step 1. Teacher Preparation Program/Degree

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and complete an approved California Teacher Preparation Program. The California Commission sets standards for educational institutions that prepare teachers. The approved institutions integrate the California course standards into the curriculum. Students that attend and complete programs at approved schools will have completed the Educator preparation requirements for the State of California. There are 250 approved educator preparation programs in the State of California. They include 23 California State University institutions, nine University of California institutions, and 54 private or independent schools, colleges, or universities.

In addition to the Teacher Preparation program, Elementary Teaching credential- Multisubject requires the below-listed special course requirements.

  • Constitution: Complete a two-semester-hour course on the US Constitution
  • Technology Awareness: Take a course on the foundations of technology foundations of technology, general computer skills, and specialized computer skills for educators.
  • Comprehensive reading instruction coursework that includes:
  • Phonemic awareness, basic phonics, and decoding skills
  • English language, literature, and reading comprehension
  • Early diagnostic techniques and intervention protocols

Required paths for an aspiring preschool teacher will include:

Path 1:

  • 24 semester units of coursework in early childhood education or childhood development including Child/Human Growth and Development; Child Family, and Community or Child and Family Relations; and Programs/Curriculum and 16 General Education courses
  • 12 units in chosen School-Age and core courses, which include
  • Supervised Field Experience
  • Possession of a CDA credential may be used as 9 semester unit credits

Path 2:

Teachers that are aspiring to be certified teachers in California need to choose what grade level they want to teach and if they want to focus on general studies or special education. There are different paths outlined by the CTC that would need to be followed.

Step 2. Supervised Teaching Experience

Commission-approved California schools provide a teacher preparation program. Student-teaching is a key part of teacher training. The field placement lasts for a period determined by each program. The student-teaching practicum has an experienced teacher as mentor and observer. The mentor will observe and offer guidance as the student-teacher prepares lesson plans and carries out the classroom instruction, preparation, and administrative tasks.

The Commission provides an exemption from the student teaching requirement for applicants that have a significant amount of documented private teaching experience. For example, students with prior experience in the Peace Corps, Head Start, or Tribal Nation programs may apply for relief from the requirements and acceptance of prior experience. The Commission can consider these requests on a case-by-case basis.

For those wishing to teach preschoolers, this will be the 3 required semester units of supervised experience previously mentioned in Path 1 & 2 above. The experience requirement to earn your Child Development Teacher Permit is 175 days of 3+ hours, within four years.

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Step 3. Apply for Your Permit & Testing

The next step is to apply for licensure. However, there are a few more things you’ll have to do first.


The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing examination rules requires that each candidate must pass the basic skills tests. For Early Childhood specialized teachers, the applicants must pass the below-listed tests.

  • The California Subject Examinations for Teachers Multiple Subjects Plus Writing Skills Examination (CSET) with a scaled score of 220 or better.
  • Content area testing Subtest I, covering subjects in Reading, Language, Literature, History, and Social Science with a score of 220.
  • Subtest II content area in Science and Mathematics with a score of 220
  • Subtest III with a score of 220 consisting of Physical Education, Human Development, Visual Media, and Performing Arts.
  • The Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA).

Find Additional Testing information for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing here.

“Testing guides and registration information can be found from Evaluation Systems Pearson using the links below regarding the following examinations:

* The CSET: Writing Skills Test must be passed in conjunction with all three subtests of the CSET: Multiple Subjects Examination to satisfy the basic skills requirement

Speech-Language Pathology: Test registration information and more can be found from Educational Testing Service using the link below:

  • Preschool Teachers:
    For Preschool teachers who are applying for their Child Development Permit, there are six levels to which they can apply: Assistant, Associate Teacher, Teacher, Master Teacher, Site Supervisor, and Program Director. If you want to lead your own classroom, you’ll want to apply for the Child Development Teacher Permit. All previously mentioned requirements will support your application for this permit.
  • Personal Fitness
    Teaching at the early childhood level requires entrustment of tender and vulnerable children to the control and care of a teacher. The State of California performs certain investigations as a safeguard. Applicants for teaching credentials must submit to a criminal background check and some investigation of their fitness for teaching.
  • Paths to Certification

    The commission provides several paths to certified teacher status. Elementary teachers must qualify by education and then apply for a Multiple Subject teaching credential. The initial level of approval is the Preliminary Teaching Credential.

    Preliminary Teaching Credential is a five-year license that requires completion of continuing education prior to renewal as a Clear Credential. During the five-year preliminary license, teachers must qualify for a permanent or Clear Credential.

  • Traditional Paths to Teacher Status
    The traditional track students must complete university coursework, and the CTC required coursework, a period of clinical practice, and student-teaching assignment in a public school.
  • Alternative Paths to Teacher Status
    Bachelor degree holders with degrees in non-education fields can qualify to work as teachers in California through alternative paths to teacher status. Teachers with experience can use the intern option in which they can substitute student-teaching with a student-developed internship that provides for teaching in the birth through age five age range at least 60% of the time.
  • City Variations
    There are specific requirements for school districts and major localities in California and students and graduates should review requirements for the regions, districts, and cities in which they may seek work. The major California school districts have some steps that students and potential teachers should consider for jobs in or near Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
  • State of California CTC Apply for Child Development Permits

Step 4. Maintain Permit and Upgrade

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) sets requirements for teachers in California. Early Childhood Education requires an Elementary Teaching Credential with a Multiple Subject endorsement. The Preliminary Credential is the first step for new applicants. This first stage credential is valid for a five-year period.

Permanent License- Getting a Clear California Teaching Credential

During the five-year period of the Initial Preliminary teaching Credential, Teachers must obtain a Clear Credential. Teachers can qualify by completing an approved General Education and Induction Program at an approved institution. This coursework covers technology, teaching English learners, special populations, and health. An alternative is to gain certification in an Early Childhood Education specialization from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Applicants must meet their specific experience and education requirements.

Preschool Permits

Preschool Educators with the Teacher Permit will have five years before they need to renew. During those five years, you will need to complete 105 hours of professional growth courses. This will allow you to renew the permit at the same level.

If you wish to upgrade to the Master Teacher permit, you may do so at the end of five years as long as you have completed all requirements. If you complete the requirements for a higher-level permit within 3 years of the issuance of your Teacher Permit, then you may submit verification, the higher-level permit application, and half of the normal application fee. This will allow you to upgrade to your new permit level right away. This is true for each successively higher permit; Master Teacher, Site Supervisor, and Program Director.

Popular Career Choices
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Kindergarten Teacher
  • Elementary School Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher

Online Accredited Teaching Preparation Programs

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing sets standards for teacher education, licensing, and credentials. The commission approves schools and colleges to provide educator preparation coursework. Completion of the educator preparation program qualifies the student to teach or provide educational services in California public schools.

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Accreditation is an essential part of the choice of post-secondary teacher preparation program in California. Students must complete an accredited program to qualify for a teaching credential. California schools have several strong accreditation agencies. Early Childhood Education programs in California have regional and programmatic accreditation.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) provide programmatic accreditation. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) grants regional accreditation for the California University and State college system. There are a few instances of national accreditation for selected associate programs and bachelor’s programs from NAEYC.

Five Leading California Early Childhood Education Programs

  • San Diego State University

    The San Diego State University, College of Education, Department of Child and Family Development offers the interdisciplinary child development major. With this major, students can choose to specialize in child development or family development.

    Degrees Offered:
    • Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts for Elementary school teachers
    • Bachelor’s degree in Early Child and Family Development
    • Master’s degree in Early Child and Family Development
    • Bachelor’s degree in School Counseling and Guidance Services
    • Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction

    Accreditation By: The San Diego State University had institutional accreditation from the WASC and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission. SDSU Teacher education Department has specialized accreditation from the CAEP.

  • California State University at Bakersfield

    The teaching major prepares students for roles as classroom teachers for a specific age group. The school offers a state-approved program for a Bachelor’s degree in teaching. Students can focus on teaching age-specific levels that range from adult education to early childhood. The curriculum includes the integration of technology into classroom teaching.

    Degrees Offered:
    • Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Teaching
    • Master’s degree in School Counseling and Guidance Services
    • Master’s degree in General Education

    Accreditation By: The WASC accredits the entire institution. California State at Bakersfield has regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission. The Teacher Education Department programs have specialized accreditation from the NCATE.

  • California State University at Fresno

    Fresno has the unique beauty of Yosemite National Park and the status of California’s only NAEYC-accredited education program. The Kremen School of Education has a long-distinguished history of producing leaders in the field of Education. Fresno offers the complete range of courses for California early childhood education including certification and teaching credential coursework.

    The Kremen School accepts the challenge of preparing graduates for a linguistically and culturally diverse population in California and elsewhere. There is an emphasis on ethics and leadership.

    Degrees Offered:
    • Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies
    • Master’s degree in Education
    • Master’s degree in Special Education
    • Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership
    • Master’s degree in School Counseling and Guidance Services
    • Master’s degree in Reading Teacher Education

    Accreditation By: The specialized accreditation agency National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the specialized early childhood education accreditation agency -National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Cal State Chico has regional accreditation of the University by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

  • Loyola Marymount University | Los Angeles

    The Center for Undergraduate Teacher Preparation (CUTP) provides matriculation support through the California certification for licensure. The Elementary education program offers a combined multiple subjects Preliminary Teaching Credential and an MA degree in Educational studies.

    Degrees Offered:
    • Master’s degree in Elementary Education and Teaching
    • Certificate in Educational Studies
    • Master’s degree in Educational Studies
    • Master’s degree in Bilingual and Multilingual Education
    • Master’s degree in School Counseling and Guidance Services
    • Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education & Teaching
    • Master’s, Doctoral, and post-grad certification in Educational Leadership & Administration
    • Master’s degree in Special Education & Teaching

    Accreditation By: The WASC awarded Institutional accreditation for LMU/LA, and the NCATE accredited the Education programs with specialized accreditation for teacher education.

  • California State University at Chico

    Chico prepares students for careers in early education teaching. The curriculum prepares graduates for working with young children and their families and for roles in the classroom, administration, and advocacy for early childhood education. Chico education majors benefit from the opportunity to work with preschoolers. Chico offers the Associated Students Child Development Laboratory (ASCDL). Students can obtain internships or practice placements with more than 40 social service agencies allowing then to easily complete the 250-hour supervised internship requirement.

    Degrees Offered:
    • Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education & Teaching
    • Master’s degree in General Education

    Accreditation By: Cal State Chico has regional accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Programmatic accreditation is provided for the Education department by NCATE.

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Potential Careers and Salaries for Graduates

  • Public Schools
    Public schools employ more than 350,000 teachers in California according to the California Department of Education (CalEdFacts). The requirements include a bachelor’s degree, experience, and completion of a state-approved teacher preparation program.
  • Private Childcare or Daycare
    Private childcare is a combination of Early Childhood Education and childcare. Teachers can qualify for this type of work with a range of credentials and experience.
  • Private Childcare Employs
    Private childcare employs Teaching Aides, Teaching Assistants, and Preschool Teachers.
  • Private Schools
    Private schools hire thousands of teachers in California. Many schools offer opportunities for teachers without credentials to gain experience under the supervision of a licensed teacher. This valuable experience can help a student qualify for a preliminary teaching credential.
  • Head Start Programs
    Head Start programs are collaborations between the State of California and the Department of Health and Human Services. The program intends to provide developmental education for low-income families with children aged birth to five. These community-based services employ Teacher Aides, Teacher Assistants, and Lead Teachers.
  • Community-based programs
    Community-based programs provide childcare and early childhood education opportunities for local families. These centers are often sponsored by public interest and civic organizations. In California, they can be licensed or unlicensed and the nature of the program may depend on that difference. Licensed childcare may have higher levels of staffing and more teachers with experience and educational qualifications. Licensed facilities have an interest in providing the best possible care and learning environment, and the use of qualified and certified teachers is an essential step towards quality care and education.
  • Faith-based programs
    Faith-based programs typically have a church affiliation or religious sponsorship. Teachers must balance education objectives and the teachings of the faith-based sponsor.
  • Military programs
    Military programs for childcare and early development have accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC. The high standards require high-quality teaching components to the military childcare environments.

Early Childhood Education Teaching Salaries in California

Occupation Degree Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Preschool Teacher AA or BA $27,500 $36,000 $34,000
Elementary School Teacher BA or BS $35,000 $43,500 $54,000
Public School Teacher BA or BS $51,000 $56,500 $72,000
Professor of Education Ph.D. $95,000 $101,000 $130,000
School Principal MA/PhD $90,000 $98,000 $120,000
Special Education Teacher BA/BS $52,000 $56,000 $65,000
Math or Science Teacher BA/BS $48,000 $60,000 $88,000
ESL Teacher BA/BS $38,000 $46,000 $48,000
School Psychologist MA/MS $78,000 $88,000 $98,000

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