Tag Archives: early childhood workforce

What Japan’s Rental Family Industry Can Teach Us About Child Care in the United States

When I started reading Elif Batuman’s recent New Yorker piece on Japan’s rental family business, I expected it to be fascinating. What I didn’t expect was that it would offer striking insights on the current debate over credentials and compensation for early childhood workers in the United States. You should really read Batuman’s whole piece, but the key paragraph is here:

In a sense, the idea of a rental partner, parent, or child is perhaps less strange than the idea that childcare and housework should be seen as the manifestations of an unpurchasable romantic love. Patriarchal capitalism has arguably had a vested interest in promoting the latter idea as a human universal: as the Marxist psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich pointed out, with women providing free housework and caregiving, capitalists could pay men less. There were other iniquities, too. As [19th Century Utopian feminist Charlotte Perkins] Gilman observed, when caregiving becomes the exclusive, unpaid purview of wives and mothers, then people without families don’t have access to it: “only married people and their immediate relatives have any right to live in comfort and health.” Her solution was that the unpaid work incumbent on every individual housewife—nursery education, household-work management, food preparation, and so on—should be distributed among paid specialists, of both genders. What often happens instead is that these tasks, rather than becoming respected, well-paid professions, are foisted piecemeal onto socioeconomically disadvantaged women, freeing their more privileged peers to pursue careers.

Ultimately, this is the core of what the debate over early childhood teacher compensation and credentials is about: As I’ve written in the past, too often these debates still reflect a kind of assumption that childcare is a manifestation of “unpurchasable” love (and that because of that, people who care for children don’t deserve to be well-paid).

Due to that assumption and an unwillingness to confront the real costs of caring for children (and really, for one another), our society is unwilling to accord people who care for and educate young children the professional status or economic value they deserve. The resulting system works well for no one, but it means the costs of professional opportunity for the educated and affluent are born disproportionately by low-income, less-educated, often racial and ethnic minority women. The resulting high rates of early educator turnover in many settings are harmful for children’s development.

Changing this system is crucial to children’s development, gender equity, and social justice for early care and education workers. But in order to do so, we must confront both the underlying history and attitudes that continue to affect thinking about the value of caring for young children, and the economic/financing challenge of how to pay fairly for work society has historically expected to get free or at a great discount by oppressing women.

Until we can honestly engage both, we cannot expect anything meaningful to change.

What We Can — and Can’t — Learn From New Jersey to Improve Pre-K Teacher Training and Pay

teacher chalkboard word cloudShould pre-K teachers have degrees? A recent New York Times Magazine article looks at both some of the challenges facing early childhood teachers and the debate over whether or not policymakers should raise education requirements for them. I explored these issues further last week in U.S. News & World Report — but I also wanted to comment on the Times piece’s coverage of New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program.

Times author Jeneen Interlandi highlights New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program, which both requires all pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and pays them comparably with public school teachers. This practice is in sharp contrast with the norm of low education requirements and pay in many other early childhood settings. A little background here: In the 1990s, a court first ordered New Jersey to offer universal pre-K to three- and four-year-olds in thirty-one high-poverty districts and, later, to ensure that teachers in those pre-K programs held both a bachelor’s degree and state certification. As Interlandi argues, the strategies New Jersey used to meet that requirement offer lessons for other efforts to elevate the skills and training of early childhood teachers.

Yet, as someone who’s studied New Jersey’s Abbott program, I fear that the article misses some key points about it that have implications for what policymakers can take away here:

1. Pre-K is pretty much the only part of the Abbott program with evidence of demonstrable, lasting benefits. New Jersey’s Abbott preK was the result of the long-running Abbott v. Burke school finance litigation. Besides mandating pre-K, various Abbott decisions required the state of New Jersey to increase spending in poor districts, repair school facilities and reduce overcrowding, and cover costs of supplemental services to address the needs of children in concentrated poverty. Billions of dollars have been spent on these efforts. Yet there is no clear evidence that they resulted in improved outcomes for students in high-poverty. Abbott Pre-K, however, is the exception.

Interlandi writes: “Abbott studies show fade-out effects, albeit less significant ones than in many other preschool studies.” This statement, while technically correct, underplays the evidence of Abbott pre-K’s results. Research shows that Abbott children made meaningful gains in pre-K — and that a portion of those gains persisted through at least 5th grade.

Interlandi is correct that the magnitude of Abbott pre-K advantage diminished over time, as some degree of fade-out is to be expected over time from any intervention. And, in the context of the Abbott results (or lack thereof) more broadly, the Abbott pre-K results are quite striking. Put another way, the Abbott pre-K results, combined with other evidence on quality early childhood programs, suggest that a marginal education dollar is more likely to generate results if spent on pre-K than if simply added to general education budgets.

2. New Jersey’s pre-K program is expensive — but so is education in New Jersey generally. Interlandi reports that New Jersey spends about $14,000 per child on pre-K — more than double the typical state spending on pre-K. The implication is that requiring pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree is really expensive. Continue reading

How to Professionalize the Early Childhood Workforce? Three Approaches for States

Right now there is little incentive to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Degree holders have the lowest starting salary of any major, and there are limited opportunities for career advancement. But research shows the achievement gap begins before students enter kindergarten, and our littlest learners need the best teachers.

Many states are exploring ways to professionalize the early childhood workforce, and some are reforming degree and credential requirements. This year, Washington, D.C. passed legislation requiring all early childhood educators to have an associate’s degree. Other states now require a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. With this trend in mind, states should plan ahead to make early childhood education degree programs worthwhile and accessible for educators already in the field.

What can they be doing now? Here are three things states should consider to lay a solid foundation for professionalizing the early childhood workforce:

1) Guided Pathways

As it is now, many two-year institutions offer a range of options to study early childhood education: students can take a CDA preparation course or pursue a certificate, diploma, career associate’s degree, or transfer associate’s degree (to continue at a four-year institution). The differences in these programs can be unclear to students and may not align to build on each other. With confusing programs and poor advising, students end up with additional credits that don’t contribute to a degree program, wasting precious time and money.

Guided pathways require higher education leaders and faculty to redesign their offerings, creating clear outcomes for programs and credentials that build on one another. As seen below in the career map from a community college in Wisconsin, pathways clarify which degree programs are relevant for which careers and other outcomes and give students increased agency in selecting a program that fits their needs and goals.

Source: Career Pathway for Early Childhood Education at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin [PDF]

2) Articulation Agreements

Articulation agreements are agreements between two- and four-year institutions that allow students to transfer seamlessly without losing credits. Most two-year institutions have some kind of articulation agreement, but not specifically for early childhood education. Expanding the number of early childhood bachelor degree programs at four-year institutions and ensuring every two-year institution has an articulation agreement for early childhood lays the foundation for potentially requiring early childhood educators to have bachelor degrees in the future.

Some states, such as Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have already created statewide agreements between all two- and four-year institutions for early childhood degrees, providing a model of what this could look like elsewhere.

3) Accreditation Support

Early childhood accreditation organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), work to raise the quality of early childhood programs. But accreditation can be expensive, and many schools prioritize other programs for accreditation above early childhood. State support, such as North Carolina’s innovative grant program, expands the number of accredited programs. As early childhood educators pursue a degree, the seal of accreditation provides peace of mind to students, as well as a degree program designed to meet the needs of today’s infants and toddlers.

If states aren’t already thinking about reforming the early childhood workforce, they are missing an opportunity to professionalize a field that plays a vital role in eliminating the achievement gap. For reform to be successful, institutional structures must be in place to support continuing education. If not planned correctly, the burden of mandated degree policies will rest on teachers and not successfully transform the early childhood education field.

How ESSA Title III Could Encourage Improvements for Dual Language Learners

English learners from ages 0-8, also called dual language learners (DLLs), are a growing population of students who face daunting achievement and graduation gaps. New guidance out recently from the Department of Education highlights some opportunities for pre-k through third grade system improvements for DLLs under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), specifically around how school districts may spend their funds for Title III. Title III provides approximately $760 million to states to improve instruction for English learners and immigrant students. These funds could be used to create better systems for DLLs if school districts partner with early childhood education (ECE) providers to take up some of the options in the new law and run with them.

  • Include pre-k teachers in professional development: First, ESSA specifically encourages states and districts to include preschool teachers in professional development on improving teaching skills for DLLs. This includes school-based ECE teachers, as well as Head Start teachers and community-based providers. Simply getting elementary school teachers and community-based ECE teachers in the same room is unusual, doing so while addressing the diverse needs of DLL students could be could be a big step forward.
  • Support effective language instruction across ECE: The guidance encourages school districts to make preschool language instruction part of their overall language instruction strategy, and this doesn’t only apply to on-site classrooms: school districts may sub-grant some of their Title III funds to support DLL instruction in ECE settings. While schools are rarely thrilled to give away funds, early action to support DLLs will yield dividends once those students transition into elementary schools.
  • Engage families early: ESSA adds a new Title III spending requirement: parent and family engagement. Families are young children’s most important resource for language learning and healthy development, as was reaffirmed in a joint policy statement on DLL family engagement earlier this year. Under ESSA, Title III family engagement is not limited to K-12 schools; school districts can use Title III funds to support DLL family engagement in ECE settings, and the guidance gives examples of how Title III can be used to support broader family engagement efforts.  
  • Share data effectively with ECE providers to inform improvement: School districts are required to share data and coordinate activities on DLL instruction with local Head Start agencies and other ECE providers, on topics such as standards, curricula, instruction, and assessments. The requirements on what data to share and what activities to coordinate aren’t very specific, but the aim is to create “a feedback loop that informs the improvement of programs and supports,” for DLLs. If this is done well, ECE providers could see how their DLL students are doing in elementary school, and open lines of communication could help schools and ECE providers both improve.

This is all a lot to accomplish with a limited pool of Title III funds — 71% of Title III school districts found funding for DLLs to be a moderate or major challenge according to a national evaluation published in 2012. But, with smart coordination, combining funding from other grant programs and funding streams, and improved relationships between schools and ECE providers, ESSA Title III requirements could be the nudge some school systems need to take action towards building better pre-k through third grade systems for DLLs and all young students.

Serving Children in Poverty While Living in Poverty

image via woodleywonderworks on flickr

Have you ever tried to guide half a dozen two-year-olds through discussion of a book? Or managed a classroom of four-year-olds each doing an independent activity? During law school, I worked at the Georgetown Law Early Care Center under the mistaken impression that working with small children would provide a nice break from long hours reading legal cases. I quickly learned that I misjudged the energy and effort required to care for young children. I can only imagine how much harder my job would have been if I was working full-time earning $10 an hour, unable to afford health insurance, and managing a second job in an effort to support a family.

But these conditions are, unfortunately, all too common for our country’s early childhood educators. Last week the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley released a groundbreaking report focused on the challenging conditions facing the U.S. early childhood workforce. The results show that even though generations of psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists have outlined the crucial role of early childhood education to child development, academic success, and the U.S. economy, the early childhood workforce continues to live in poverty and under extreme stress. Nearly half of early childhood education workers receive some type of government assistance and their median wage is $9.77, less than the hourly fee paid to a high school babysitter in many communities.

The fact that young children are under the care of adults subject to chronic stress is a critical problem that has tremendous consequences for young children and U.S. society at-large. The foundation for lifelong literacy, attention, and self-regulation is built during the years from birth to age five. Young children’s brains are influenced dramatically by the quality of their relationships with those caring for them. In fact, research has determined that early educators’ skills are the most important factor determining the quality of children’s early learning experiences.

Many believe that the best way to set students up for life long success is to ensure all children have access to two years of high-quality preschool. While this change would dramatically increase long-term outcomes for American children, it is impossible to achieve this without transforming the early childcare workforce and the conditions under which they toil. States must increase workplace supports and compensation. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment report aims to be a yearly report, so here’s hoping the next index will show dramatic improvements in the right direction.