Early Childhood

Study: Calif. Child-Care Centers Struggle To Keep Good Teachers

By Linda Jacobson — May 02, 2001 3 min read
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Even child-care programs that are striving to be among the best in the country are struggling to hold on to their teachers and directors, according to the latest findings from a longitudinal study of those who provide care and education to young children.

For More Information

The new “Then and Now” study is available for $15 and can be ordered online from the Center for the Child Care Workforce.

In fact, more than three-quarters of the teachers and 40 percent of the top administrators who worked at a center in 1996 were no longer on the job four years later, says the report, which is based on an examination of programs in three California counties. The study was scheduled for release this week by the Center for the Child Care Workforce and the Institute for Industrial Relations at the University of California, Berkeley.

Calling that turnover pattern the “other teaching crisis,” the authors describe employee turnover in programs for young children as “equal to, if not greater than, the staffing crisis plaguing elementary and secondary schools.”

And they argue that the issue must be addressed through an increase in public funding.

“We think that compensation ... must be increased dramatically and quickly,” said Marcy Whitebook, a senior researcher at the Institute for Industrial Relations.

The study, “Then and Now: Changes in Child Care Staffing, 1994-2000,” shows that many newly hired employees are not as well educated as those they are replacing. While about half the teachers who left had four-year degrees, only a third of the new teachers had the same level of education.

In addition, the researchers found, only half the teachers who had left the centers were still working in child care when they were contacted last year. What’s more, those who were working in other fields were making an average of $8,000 more a year than those who had accepted another child-care job.

The new report updates the center’s 1997 study, which focused on 92 early-childhood-education programs in three northern California counties—Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Santa Clara— that had earned or were seeking accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The counties have a mix of low-, middle-, and high-income neighborhoods, and the sample includes both nonprofit and for- profit centers.

In the initial study, “NAEYC Accreditation as a Strategy for Improving Child Care Quality,” the researchers found that earning national accreditation was one of the characteristics of high-quality child-care centers, but that such recognition alone was no guarantee that children were receiving the best care possible.

And the new study, which focuses on 75 of the original 92 centers, draws the same conclusion.

Wanted: Higher Salaries

Only centers paying higher wages were more likely to retain their teachers. Those teachers who had quit by 2000 earned an average of $10.29 an hour—about $1.50 less than those who were still in their positions.

The authors note that even the highest-paid and most experienced teachers in centers are making about $10,000 less than the average K-12 teacher in California.

Among their other findings, the authors discovered that early- childhood-education teachers were more likely to stay on the job if they worked with a higher percentage of well-trained colleagues, including those with a college degree and specialized training in child development.

“The absence of capable co-workers makes the already-demanding job of creating a well- functioning environment for children even harder,” the report says.

Barbara A. Willer

Barbara A. Willer, the deputy executive director of the NAEYC, agreed that the high turnover rate over a four-year period “is not good news.”

But she added that the results should be put in context. The study focuses only on counties within California, a state that began a large class-size-reduction effort in grades K-3 nearly five years ago.

Ms. Whitebook said that of the directors who were interviewed for the study, about a third said that they had lost teachers to the public school system.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2001 edition of Education Week as Study: Calif. Child-Care Centers Struggle To Keep Good Teachers


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