Saturday, July 9, 2016

Policies in All 50 States Shortchange Early Educators, Undermining Early Learning for Millions of Children

Policies in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., shortchange the two million early educators who are shaping the future of 12 million children in child care and preschool across the nation, according to a groundbreaking report released today by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Early Childhood Workforce Index is the first-ever comprehensive state-by-state analysis of early childhood employment conditions and policies. It is also the first report to provide practical policy solutions that policymakers, business and labor leaders, and educators can use to address the well-documented crisis of low wages and economic insecurity among early childhood teachers and the lack of affordable, high quality services for children and families in the United States. The state-specific findings are available on an interactive map, with additional detail and policy recommendations posted on the website.

“Early educators’ skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences,” said Marcy Whitebook, director of CSCCE and one of the study’s authors. “But states are failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments, and training teachers need to help children succeed.”

Early childhood education refers to center- and home-based child care and preschool for children ages five and under. While there is scientific consensus that early childhood education is central to shaping children’s lifelong knowledge and skills, the authors found that policies in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., fall short on a number of measurable indicators, which include earnings and economic security, early childhood workforce policies, and family and income support policies. These categories cover pay, professional development, paid planning time, paid sick leave, and a number of other important programs and policies that impact the ability of early educators to teach effectively and remain on the job.

Early educators are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. The median hourly wages for child care workers range from $8.72 in Mississippi to $12.24 in New York. Nationwide, the median wage is $9.77. Preschool teachers fare somewhat better: wages range from $10.54 in Idaho to $19.21 in Louisiana. In contrast, the median national wage for kindergarten teachers is $24.83.

Nearly one-half of child care workers (46 percent), compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce, are part of families that participate in at least one public assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps.

Only 17 states have policies or programs in place to address the problem of low wages for early educators, and they still fall severely short:

  • Twelve states offer a stipend program to supplement wages, and two states (Louisiana and Nebraska) offer early educators refundable tax credits that augment earnings, but these do not fundamentally raise ongoing salaries of early educators. Furthermore, eligibility requirements and funding levels limit participation and constrain supplement amounts.
  • While 23 states require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for public pre-K and elementary school teachers, only four states (Hawaii, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) require the same starting salary and salary schedule for all public pre-K teachers as for K-3 teachers.
  • Only Oklahoma, in addition to requiring salary parity for public pre-K teachers, also offered a wage supplement program for early educators working outside of public pre-K. However, due to budget cuts, Oklahoma’s wage supplement program recently ended.

According to the National Academies of Science, says Index co-author Dr. Caitlin McLean, “those who teach and care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers require equivalent levels of knowledge and skills as teachers of older children.” Yet, the Index shows that no states have qualification requirements in line with the National Academies of Science recommendations:

  • Ten states have no educational requirements for center-based lead teachers, and a further 23 states have no requirements for regulated home-based providers.
  • Only 11 states set a minimum requirement for some early educators working outside the public pre-K system that includes demonstration of foundational knowledge by earning a national Child Development Associate Credential or participation in vocational education, and only Georgia and Vermont require this for both center- and home-based providers.
  • Of the 44 states (including the District of Columbia) with public pre-K programs, only 23 require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for all lead pre-K teachers.
In addition to qualifications and compensation, the Index identifies three other categories of state policy that are critical to improving early care and education: work environments, public resources available for child care services, and a database to identify and track the characteristics of the workforce. Not one of the 50 states or Washington, D.C., is making significant process in all five policy categories. Twenty-two states are making progress in only one category.

Proposals for a Path Forward

Beyond appraising state policies and workforce status, the Index offers recommendations for improving early childhood jobs for educators as well as early learning opportunities for millions of children.

“The time is long overdue for moving from the question of why we must improve early childhood jobs to a focus on how to make it happen,” says Index co-author Dr. Lea Austin. “A starting point is to ensure that states’ definition of quality includes appropriate compensation and supportive work environments. Beyond that, we need to radically shift how we look at early care and education and value it as a public good, which will require explicit policies and significant resources to invest in the workforce, while simultaneously relieving financial burdens on families.”

The Index outlines a number of concrete steps that policymakers and other stakeholders can take at thestate and federal levels to ensure a high-quality, affordable early care and education system, including:

  • Advancing the preparation of the workforce by establishing minimum educational requirements, developing well-defined career pathways, and ensuring that all members of the current workforce have access to foundational and advanced training and education;
  • Establishing work environment standards to reduce stressful conditions and promote effective teaching necessary for supporting children’s optimal development and learning;
  • Implementing compensation and benefit guidelines for entry level to teacher leadership positions in line with education, training, and experience, with the stated intention of raising the current wage floor and achieving parity with the K-12 education system;
  • Developing a comprehensive, up-to-date workforce data system to gain a meaningful assessment of the reach and effectiveness of education and training opportunities and other supports for the workforce; and
  • Committing financial resources to invest in the above recommendations.

“Without transforming policies that shape how we prepare, support, and pay early educators, the 21st- century goal of quality early learning opportunities for all children will remain elusive,” warns Whitebook. “States will continue to struggle to attract and retain skilled educators. And, as a nation, we will continue to place unconscionable demands on the dedicated women who, day in and day out, do their best to support the learning and well-being of children, often against enormous odds.”

The 2016 Index is co-authored by Marcy Whitebook, Ph.D., Caitlin McLean, Ph.D., and Lea J.E. Austin, Ed.D., Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. It marks the launch of a biennial effort from CSCCE to track early childhood workforce policies nationwide and chart their progress.

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