Raising the Bar: We Know Better-Qualified Teachers Produce Higher-Performing Children. We Need to Reward Better-Trained Child-Care and Preschool Teachers

By Fitzgerald, Joan; Hunt, Daphne | The American Prospect, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Raising the Bar: We Know Better-Qualified Teachers Produce Higher-Performing Children. We Need to Reward Better-Trained Child-Care and Preschool Teachers


Fitzgerald, Joan, Hunt, Daphne, The American Prospect


LILLIANA DIAZ HAS OPERATED a child-care business in her Lowell, Massachusetts, home for more than four years. Often rising before dawn and putting in 10-hour days, she guides eight toddlers through a busy schedule of reading, playtime, meals, and more. To get to this point, Diaz completed a 63-hour training course, then earned a Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential, and is now working toward an associate's degree. But because Massachusetts, like 32 other states, does not reimburse family childcare providers based on their education level, she makes the same as a provider who has just 15 hours of course work--the bare minimum required by the state. The same is true for workers in most child-care centers; there is little pay differentiation even for workers with college degrees.

In both family day-care settings (a small number of children in the provider's home) and child-care centers (more formal and larger), the quality of care is more custodial than developmental. Only 16 states require family child-care providers to be licensed, and the licensing requirements mostly address safety issues, not educational quality or caretaker training. Just 7 percent of child-care centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the field's accrediting body. And the picture is no better when it comes to childcare workers, who--shamefully--are among the lowest-paid people in the country. Assistants earn an average hourly wage of $8.37 and teachers about $9.66. It's no wonder only one-third of child-care teachers hold a college degree; those with degrees can get better jobs in other fields.

We know that professionalization of the people who work with kids makes a big difference in outcomes for children. But how do we get from the current workforce to one that provides enriching, developmentally focused care that prepares children to do well in school? Should we aim high--for the kindergarten model, where teachers hold bachelor's degrees? Or should we look to an attainable middle ground--focusing on upgrading skills for current providers to ensure better results for kids? With a few notable exceptions detailed below, most states unfortunately are taking a minimalist approach.

We also know definitively that high-quality child care is essential to the social, cognitive, and emotional development of children, particularly for poor children who may not get parenting that meets these needs at home. Child-care providers with higher levels of education are more likely to engage in activities that stimulate children's development. Compelling evidence suggests that teachers with bachelor's degrees in early-childhood development or education are much more likely to provide children with the literacy skills and vocabularies needed to do well in school. As far back as 1979, the National Day Care Study found that children in centers with a high proportion of well-trained caregivers had higher cognitive test scores than others. Voluminous research since then has shown a positive correlation between teacher education and children's language scores, their healthy interaction with peers, and other important measures of success.

But professionalizing the workforce requires not only a system of credentials but also some assurance that better education will be rewarded with better pay. Only 21 states set education standards for child-care-center employees, and most of those are minimal. Rhode Island and New Jersey alone require teachers in child-care centers to hold bachelor's degrees and to have taken part in specialized early-childhood training. Vermont is the only state requiring that a child-care center have on staff at least one person with a master's degree. And just 17 states reimburse workers based on their education or training, mostly by offering a one time award or annual stipend. In Georgia, for example, the INCENTIVES program offers annual salary supplements to child care workers who meet licensing-credentialing criteria as a way to boost skills and reduce turnover. …

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