Early Childhood

Child-Care Centers Aim for Middle of the Road in Hiring, Study Finds

By Christina A. Samuels — April 25, 2017 5 min read
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Having a bachelor’s degree, a top-notch grade point average, and a relatively high level of work experience actually reduces the chance that a job applicant will be called in for an interview with a child-care provider, according to new research that used thousands of fictional resumes to gauge child-care hiring practices in 14 large cities.

Fictional applicants with six months of experience were called in for interviews more often than those with two years of experience. Having a bachelor’s degree was no more likely to garner a call-back than having an associate’s degree. And while having a GPA of 3.3 gets more attention than a GPA of 2.8, an applicant with a GPA of 3.8 is slightly less likely to get called in for a job interview than that 3.3-GPA applicant.

The researchers also found evidence of racial bias in hiring: Applicants who had names commonly associated with African-Americans and Hispanics were less likely to be called back for interviews. This finding was surprising, they said, considering that the early-childhood workforce is 40 percent nonwhite.

Hiring directors may be shying away from job candidates with high levels of education and experience because they expect those employees will want to be paid more and may leave quickly for better opportunities, said Casey Boyd-Swan, an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University. She co-authored the paper with Chris Herbst, an associate professor in the school of public affairs at Arizona State University.

Surveys of early-care providers show that lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn close to $20 an hour on average, while lead teachers with associate’s degrees earn not quite $14 an hour.

“We came to the conclusion early on that providers are really facing some barriers and limitations when they’re making hiring decisions. They do want to provide high-quality care, but they also want to stay in business,” Boyd-Swan said.

Screening Out Most-Qualified Child-Care Applicants

Most of the policy discussion about child-care quality has focused on parents—for example, getting parents to understand what “high quality” care is, and encouraging parents to demand it. But “nobody’s really taken a look at the provider side of the market and particularly the hiring practices,” Herbst said.

For their report, The Demand for Teacher Characteristics in the Market for Child Care: Evidence from a Field Experiment, which was published Monday by IZA-Institute of Labor Economics, Boyd-Swan and Herbst created nearly 11,000 resumes with a variety of random elements. They changed candidate names to signal the potential employee’s race.They also created resumes with one of three elements of educational attainment (a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree), different grade point averages, various levels of previous work experience, and more.

Here are examples of two of the fictional resumes they created, “Lakisha Robinson” and “Meredith Larson.” A technical appendix to the study goes into greater detail on exactly how the resumes were created and distributed.

The resumes were then sent to child-care job postings in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Most centers responded within 24 to 48 hours, either asking the candidate in for an interview or turning them down.

Based on their data, Boyd-Swan and Herbst found hiring directors did prefer applicants with some experience over none, as well as applicants who had some education beyond high school.

But there appeared to be little connection between the quality of work experience and the likelihood of being asked in for an interview. Experience watching children for brief periods at a YMCA seemed to rate about the same to hiring managers as experience working at The Goddard School, an early-childhood provider with franchises nationwide.

Hiring managers also seemed indifferent to whether applicants for preschool-level positions had an associate’s or bachelor’s degree—another interesting finding, considering that preschool teachers are often asked to implement programs to prepare children for kindergarten.

Racial Bias in Child-Care Provider Hiring Practices

Unlike the other findings, the racial disparities don’t appear to be tied to any particular economic concern—the resumes were randomized, so the “black” and “Hispanic” candidates had a range of experience and educational levels.

Relative to job applicants with white-sounding names, the interview rate for black candidates was 32 percent lower, and for Hispanic candidates it was 13 percent lower. To get an better idea of the magnitude of the effect, the researchers compared it educational attainment: applicants with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree were 50 percent more likely to get a call-back than candidates with a high school diploma. Thus, the negative impact of being black was comparable to the positive impact of having educational experience beyond high school.

“We were both struck at how big the African-American effect was,” Herbst said. Similar studies in other fields have come to the same conclusions, suggesting that child-care hiring directors are not immune to the biases that affect other fields, he said.

In addition to the money concerns driving hiring decisions, Boyd-Swan and Herbst offer another potential explanation: Hiring directors just don’t believe that high GPAs and bachelor’s degree correspond with better care.

“Center directors in this study are telling us what they want. Maybe child-care providers are telling us, ‘considering how much extra I have to pay for the BA-level teacher, I don’t see a justifiable increase in quality,’” Herbst said.

The push for high-quality care may circle around once again to parents, Boyd-Swan and Herbst conclude. If parents are educated about the importance of high-quality care, they might be willing to pay more for it. And “mitigating these parent-side information problems would in turn allow child-care providers to hire more qualified teachers,” the paper says.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.