Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Early Care and Education Workforce

Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Early Care and Education Workforce

Article excerpt

Summary

In this article, Deborah Phillips, Lea Austin, and Marcy Whitebook examine educational preparation, compensation, and professional development among the early childhood workforce. Their central theme is that these features look very different for preschool teachers than they do for the elementary school teaching workforce.

Most teachers of kindergarten through third grade can count on clear job requirements, professional development opportunities, workplace supports such as paid planning time, and a transparent and rational salary structure based on qualifications and experience. These teachers often earn a wage that approaches the median income in their communities.

For most preschool teachers, Phillips, Austin, and Whitebook write, the situation is very different. Job requirements and qualifications vary wildly from program to program and from state to state. Professional development is both scarce and inconsistent. Compensation often fails to reward educational attainment or training; in fact, many preschool teachers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. Poor compensation fuels turnover, which means that society loses investments in professional learning, and produces economic insecurity and stress among preschool teachers.

The crux of quality in early childhood education lies squarely in the interactions that transpire between teachers and children, the authors write. Thus it's long past time, they argue, to recognize prekindergarten through third grade as a continuum that requires a seamless system of professional learning and compensation tied to qualifications, including education. To move beyond incremental improvements in the quality of early care and education, they conclude, empirical research, intervention, and policy alike should focus on the preparation, professional development, compensation, and wellbeing of early childhood teachers.

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Early childhood teachers constitute the linchpin of quality in prekindergarten through third grade. Yet they are some of the most erratically trained and poorly paid professionals in the United States. The contradiction inherent in this characterization of the early care and education workforce, and its implications for the wellbeing of the millions of young children in early childhood care, has been addressed by three National Academies reports that span 25 years. (1) In 1990, the report Who Cares for America's Children? stated that "quality child care also requires settings and conditions that value adults as well as children." (2) In 2000, the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, in Neurons to Neighborhoods, agreed that "good quality care requires an environment that values adults as well as children." (3) In 2015, the Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8 argued, "It is through the quality work of these adults that the nation can make it right from the very beginning for all of its children." (4) These statements capture the scientific community's longstanding concern that when it comes to policies and practices affecting the nation's early education workforce, the stakes are high.

This article paints a portrait of this workforce with respect to educational preparation, compensation, and professional development. A central theme is that these features look very different for preschool teachers than they do for the elementary school teaching workforce. We also examine the relatively sparse evidence on what this portrait implies for teachers' wellbeing, classroom practices, and stability.

The US Early Childhood Landscape

The characteristics of the workforce responsible for the care and education of young children from birth through the first years of elementary education have fluctuated wildly over the years. During World War II, for example, more than three thousand federally funded child care centers linked to the war effort routinely employed certified teachers, recognizing their dual role in supporting working mothers and educating young children. …

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