From the Education Law Prof Blog
By Derek Black
January 30, 2018
“We still treat preschool teachers like babysitters. We want them to ameliorate poverty even as they live in it themselves.”
A decade ago, James Ryan argued that state constitutional rights to education should include access to preschool. Given what we know about brain development, access to high quality education opportunities at an early age is crucial.
He explained “Advances in neuroscience have made it clear that the first few years of life are crucial for cognitive development and that early experiences can influence the emerging architecture of the brain” and “[s]ocial science evidence, in turn, suggests that preschool produces definite and substantial gains in learning and development, at least over the short-run.”
While there are admittedly gaps in the research, “most of the evidence about preschool points in one direction and is not contradictory or intensely contested.” It is so powerful that researchers began doing cost-benefit analyses of preschool, “concluding that in most cases preschool will more than pay for itself” due to the savings it will produce in other educational, social service, and juvenile justice programs.
Ryan called on school funding litigators to include preschool claims in their cases and many have. And many states have responded. A recent New York Times Magazine article, however, suggests that states are not nearly as serious about preschool as they should be. The title says it all-- Why Are Our Most Important Teachers Paid the Least?
The article reports that:
Even as investment in early-childhood education soars, teachers like Kelly continue to earn as little as $28,500 a year on average, a valuation that puts them on par with file clerks and switchboard operators, but well below K-12 teachers, who, according to the most recent national survey, earn roughly $53,100 a year.
According to a recent briefing from the Economic Policy Institute, a majority of preschool teachers are low-income women of color with no more than a high-school diploma. Only 15 percent of them receive employer-sponsored health insurance, and depending on which state they are in, nearly half belong to families that rely on public assistance.
“Teaching preschoolers is every bit as complicated and important as teaching any of the K-12 grades, if not more so,” says Marcy Whitebook, a director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.
“But we still treat preschool teachers like babysitters. We want them to ameliorate poverty even as they live in it themselves.”
The article also includes good updates on the social science research since Ryan first wrote his article.