Op-Ed: Building a Professional Early Childhood Workforce Requires a “Compensation-First” Approach

Bassok and colleagues reflect on lessons from early childhood credentialing in Louisiana and make suggestions for how to improve the early childhood workforce.

Daphna Bassok, Laura Bellows, Anna J. Markowitz, Kate Miller-Bains

Teachers who work in child care settings in the United States earn $11.65 per hour on average—less than half of what their peers working in schools earn, and below a living wage in most U.S. counties. Accordingly, even prior to the pandemic, child care teachers left the profession at considerably higher rates than K-12 teachers. In Louisiana, for example, nearly half of child care teachers working one year were gone the next.

While the pandemic impacted teachers at all levels, the child care sector was hit harder than K-12. Many child care teachers left for higher-paying jobs, and staffing challenges led many centers to turn families away. These difficulties have heightened awareness of the poor working conditions early educators face and spurred calls to professionalize the ECE workforce and treat them more like K-12 teachers

Professionalization efforts in early childhood education (ECE) often focus on increasing training and education requirements for early educators. For instance, a 2015 National Academies report called for increased entry requirements, including a bachelor’s degree for lead teachers, as a strategy for “transforming” the early childhood workforce. Programs such as T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$ provide scholarships and wage increases to incentivize child care teachers to pursue more education. And, by the end of 2023, the District of Columbia will require all child care teachers to hold an associate degree.  

The benefits or costs of these types of large-scale professionalization efforts in ECE are not yet clear. And we know little about the implications of such policies for a workforce that already faces a great deal of instability. However, research on ECE professionalization offers some lessons. 

Visit Brookings.edu to read the full op-ed where it was originally published.

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