A well-prepared, well-compensated, and supported workforce is an essential component of high-quality early childhood education. For this reason, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) recently released the 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index (ECWI), a tool to understand: (a) what policies address workforce preparation, compensation, and support; and (b) how the status of these policies changes over time.
Developed with support from the Foundation’s Education program, the ECWI addresses five interrelated components of state workforce policy:
- Qualifications and educational supports
- Work environments
- Compensation and financial relief strategies
- Workforce data
- Financing strategies
States are ranked in each of these categories, based on whether their workforce policies render the state stalled, edging forward, or making headway.
State profiles delineate how the state ranks for each of the five components of workforce policy, and also provides key statistics on that state’s workforce. For example, in California, the average wage of a child care teacher is just $12.60 per hour, while a preschool teacher is paid $16.19 per hour. Across all of the 119,760 early childhood professionals in California, the average wage is $19.70.
State profiles also offer in-depth information about policies relate to qualification requirements. For those interested in making state-by-state comparisons of workforce policies, the ECWI also offers an interactive map, where users can select specific states to compare, and can see how workforce policies have changed since the 2016 ECWI was published.
Key findings from the 2018 Index
The data presented in the 2018 ECWI reveal several key findings:
- Economic insecurity remains common among many in the early childhood profession. Many teachers are paid poverty wages, meaning that they themselves need to access public benefits to make ends meet. This also means that sometimes teachers end up seeking more stable employment in another sector or another profession altogether.
- State reform efforts have focused mostly on increasing qualification requirements. Most states, however, have failed to address low compensation. This lack of attention to qualifications and compensation in tandem impedes progress on increasing workforce stability/retention, affects children’s learning opportunities, and detracts from efforts to recruit teachers into the workforce.
- An increase in minimum wage was associated with slightly higher wages for teachers in child care programs.
- Progress on increasing compensation has been uneven. State-by-state data revealed that, when adjusted for inflation, preschool teachers and program directors wages stagnated or decreased as compared to the data reported in the 2016 ECWI, while wages for child care teachers increased slightly overall.
The 2018 ECWI shows that there is much work to be done to ensure that the workforce is prepared, compensated, and supported. As research suggests, the learning and developmental benefits associated with high-quality early childhood are partly dependent on a stable and well-prepared workforce.
The Status of the Early Childhood Education Teaching Workforce
Research indicates that high-quality, developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant teaching is one of the most potent drivers of positive child outcomes in the early years. However, a majority of the early childhood workforce in the United States is paid poverty wages and does not have access to the professional preparation and development necessary. Furthermore, the combination of low wages and lack of preparation and support means that the turnover in the early childhood teaching workforce is high: it is estimated that as much as 40 percent of teachers leave the field every year. This instability in the teaching workforce means that many young children in the U.S. are not benefitting as much as they could from their early learning experiences.
Solving the problems associated with workforce instability will be neither easy nor straightforward. Lack of adequate and durable financing for early childhood education and a reliance on families to cover the cost of early childhood education services often renders professional pay unattainable. At the same time, there is growing support among the public and policymakers to increase public investment in early childhood education. As such, states that wish to increase access to early childhood education services will need to grapple with how to appropriately prepare, compensate, and support the early childhood education teaching workforce.