As the focus on early education has grown, so has the focus on early-childhood teachers, who are often poorly qualified and nearly always poorly paid. But qualification requirements and better pay must go hand-in-hand, says a new report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.
“The goal to have teachers be better educated is fantastic,” said long-time Massachusetts preschool teacher Jennie Antunes, on a press call on July 7 about the new report . “The question arises, however, why would individuals with bachelor’s degrees and years in the field remain in the field?”
Antunes has taught for decades and recently earned her bachelor’s degree. She loves her job and can afford to keep it because her husband is a well-paid corrections officer. But, she said, so is her 25-year-old son who does not have a degree and already makes twice as much as she does.
“I see many teachers leave this work and this turnover is not good for young children,” Antunes said. “It is sad and unfortunate that in Massachusetts and across the country, we continue to lose educators.”
According to the new report, nearly half (46 percent) of early childhood teachers were enrolled in at least one federally funded support program, either the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps; or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). That’s compared to 26 percent of the workforce overall and just 13 percent of elementary or middle school teachers.
Early educators are also in a much lower earning percentile than kindergarten teachers, whose charges are just one year older. Child-care workers are in the second percentile and preschool teachers are in the 16th percentile, while kindergarten teachers are in the 60th percentile.
Meanwhile, median wages for child-care workers are decreasing in a majority of states, while the opposite is true for preschool teachers who tend to be employed in public schools or paid out of state preschool funding streams.
The report also takes an in depth look at teacher qualifications and addresses the need to maintain workforce diversity (that is, keeping its high proportions of black and Hispanic teachers) while simultaneously raising the bar on quality.
“Research has documented that early educators—including those from historical minority groups and/or for whom English is not their primary language—can successfully earn a college degree and do so at rates higher than the average college transfer student, with particular supports in place,” the report states.
Details aside, a solution to improving the working conditions and the quality of the early education workforce must be found soon, said Megan Gunnar, a professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, because the amount of brain development that happens in those earliest years is too important to leave to chance. The idea that anyone with minimal training can walk in and teach preschool right, is outdated, she said.
“Helping [children] develop their brain is, in fact, rocket science,” she said.
Graphics courtesy of Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.