By Lauren Camera
July 7, 2016
Policies in all 50 states fall short of addressing the issues.
|Early childhood education in the U.S. suffers as a result|
of economic insecurity among teachers, among
other issues, according to a new study.
Early childhood education in the U.S. is a disaster, and policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia do little to address the low wages and economic insecurity among teachers and the lack of affordable, high-quality services for children.
Those are the findings at the heart of a new report released Thursday by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley – the first comprehensive state-by-state analysis of early education employment conditions and policies.
"Early educators’ skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences," said Marcy Whitebook, director of the Berkley center and one of the study’s authors. "But states are failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments, and training teachers need to help children succeed."
Among many other things in the 120-page report, early education policies across the U.S. fall short on a number of measurable indicators, including pay, professional development, paid planning time, paid sick leave, and other policies that impact the ability of early educators to teach effectively and remain on the job.
There are approximately 2 million early educators – almost all women – who care for about 12 million children between birth and age 5.
Nearly half of those child care workers, or 46 percent, were part of families enrolled in at least one of four public support programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or the federal earned income tax credit. That’s compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce as a whole, the report finds.
“Absent change, our nation will remain unable to deliver on the promise of developmental and learning opportunities for all children,” Whitebook wrote. “We will continue to place unconscionable demands on the dedicated women who, day in and day out, do their best to support the learning and well-being of children, often against enormous odds. We will continue to witness educators leaving the field in search of employment that offers a livable wage, rewards their educational attainment, and provides the respect that is their due.”
The report mirrors a recent analysis from the Department of Education that shows early childhood educators are woefully underpaid.
As both reports note, the wage disparity is especially troubling in light of the fact that early childhood teachers are often asked or required to obtain the same certifications and trainings as kindergarten and elementary school teachers.
The findings come after years of increased efforts by the Obama administration to make early childhood education a major priority.
President Barack Obama first called for universal preschool during his State of the Union address in 2013 and has proposed an ambitious $75 billion investment in early childhood education in subsequent budgets. But efforts have so far been limited to $750 million in various rounds of competitive grants that are currently supporting 230 high-need communities provide more than 100,000 children with access to preschool.
Indeed, the efforts at the federal level have nudged some states to rethink their early childhood education offerings. Nationally, the 2014-2015 school year showed improvement in state funded preschool with larger increases in enrollment, spending, spending per child, and quality standards than the previous year, according to the National Institute of Early Education Research report in the State of Preschool 2015: Preschool Yearbook.
But the changes, while moving in the right direction, aren’t widespread enough to make a significant impact, many preschool experts admit. And they fall far short of the president’s calls for universal preschool – something presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has also made a major part of her education platform.
So what can the federal government and states do? The report recommends focusing on providing a baseline for early educator preparation, increasing the number workplace supports and upping compensation.
“Adequate preparation is necessary for teachers to develop the skills to provide high-quality learning experiences for children, but workplace supports are needed to ensure ongoing reflection, development, and educator well-being,” Whitebook wrote. “Similarly, appropriate compensation and some measure of economic security are indispensable or attracting and retaining skilled educators.”
Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She’s covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s competitive education grant, Race to the Top.