Op-Ed submission to the Boston Globe (unpublished)
Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. and Steve Barnett, Ed.D.
March 30, 2005
The creation of the Department of Early Education and Care, developedto administer the Massachusetts’ early education care system, puts thestate at a critical juncture in advancing its historic commitment toyoung children. On July 1st, the new department becomes active, and itsBoard and Commissioner will have the tough task of deciding how toproceed. Well-trained, qualified teachers and providers are necessaryfor programs to promote children’s school readiness. The recentlyreleased Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief: Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce
provides research-based evidence of the magnitude of the task of workforce development. Massachusetts is at a critical juncture in advancing its historic commitment to young children. Last year, the State created the Department of Early Education and Care to administer Massachusetts’ early education and care system, laying the groundwork for universal access to voluntary, high-quality programs for the Commonwealth’s preschool-aged children. As the new Department becomes active on July 1st, its Board and Commissioner will have the tough task of deciding how to proceed. Workforce development is a vital first step - the Commonwealth needs to increase the qualifications of the current workforce and recruit and retain new, qualified teachers and providers. Well-trained, qualified teachers and providers are necessary for programs to promote children’s school readiness. The recently released Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief: Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce (Nancy L. Marshall, Julie Dennehy, Christine Johnson-Staub, Wendy Wagner Robeson, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College) provides research-based evidence of the magnitude of the task of workforce development.
The Commonwealth is committed to continuing Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system that provides access to preschool in public school settings, centers, Head Start programs and family child care homes; workforce issues must be addressed in each setting.
Currently, the majority of children participating in preschool programs are in centers. While many of the teachers in centers exceed the minimal requirements set by the Office of Child Care Services (OCCS) – with 53 percent of teachers holding a child development associate (CDA) credential or college degree in early childhood education (ECE) or a related field – many current center teachers will need additional education or training to raise the quality of these programs.
Preschool classrooms in Massachusetts’ public schools currently serve fewer than 20 percent of preschool-aged children. Teachers in public school preschool classrooms are required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree; research shows teachers who have additional training in ECE provide higher quality programs.
Family child care providers are an important sector of Massachusetts mixed delivery system of early education and care, serving more children than public school preschool programs and Head Start programs combined. Many family child care homes meet accepted standards of quality programming. However, only 27 percent of family child care providers have a CDA or college degree; providers without a CDA or higher formal education are less likely to provide high quality early education and care.
To recruit and maintain a qualified early education and care workforce, it will be necessary to address issues of compensation and turnover. Compensation currently varies by education level and by sector of Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system. Within a sector, more-qualified individuals receive higher compensation. However, a center teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the field is paid less than a comparably educated public school preschool teacher. Preschool center teachers with a bachelor’s degree in ECE earn an average of $11.91/hour compared to the lowest paid, full-time public school preschool teachers who earn an average of $28/hour. According to the annual State of Preschool yearbook published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, 13 state pre-kindergarten initiatives in the nation require teachers to be paid on a public school salary scale. Massachusetts is not one of them.
The low wages associated with employment in centers are directly related to staff turnover. In fact, turnover among teaching staff in Massachusetts’ centers is significantly higher than national averages for all employees working in education. Directors reported that 26 percent of their teaching staff had left in the previous year; nationally, the annual turnover rate for 2003-2004 in education services was only 9.8 percent. Turnover is costly – the Commonwealth loses on its investment when highly trained teachers leave the field, and young children lose when they experience unstable care.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has declared this the Week of the Young Child, a time “to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment that will promote their early learning.” We join with NAEYC in this “Week of the Young Child” and we call for continuing commitment to workforce development and adequate compensation for early education and care professionals, to ensure that all our children enter school ready to learn.