The Challenges of Professionalizing Early Childhood Education Workforce

Research shows that childcare workers and preschool teachers with college degrees or certifications can improve outcomes for children, but many questions arise about whether those findings would hold true absent other factors like higher wages, classroom resources, and positive workplace conditions. Two recent articles — one in the New York Times and one in Inside Higher Ed — take a look at the thorny issues surrounding the professionalization of early childhood education.

Part of the challenge is in the scope of existing research. As the NYT story explains, “Studies of public early childhood programs, including in New Jersey and Oklahoma, have found positive outcomes for children when the teachers had college degrees. But since they all had degrees, it’s unclear whether the degree is what helped, something else or a combination.”

Teaching quality is also affected by the leadership and culture of an early childhood center, the availability of resources in classrooms, and — of course — the low wages that typically accompany early childhood education. Those who do pursue degrees for early childhood often move to higher-paying elementary education jobs.

One potential path forward may be for early childhood education to follow a path similar to nursing, according to Inside Higher Ed. “In the 1950s, nurses learned on the job and weren’t required to hold as many degrees or certifications as they do today. But that shift in the nursing profession to requiring more education eventually led to better compensation.”

This would mean parallel development of both training and certification requirements and increased compensation growth. According to NAEYC, the early childhood workforce needs to have a unified framework for credentials and qualifications in order to receive the public investments necessary to increase compensation, but in order to make the case for the increased compensation, evidence for comparable education, accountability and preparation must be shown. Therefore, conversations around compensation and training requirements must happen simultaneously.

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) is proud partner of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC is a professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. NAEYC recently launched a two-year initiative called Power to the Profession (P2P), which seeks to unify the early childhood profession and develop a consistent structure for competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation for all those who work in the early learning field. ACS currently provides technical assistance for five NAEYC state affiliates across the country that were chosen by NAEYC to conduct outreach and engagement with the early childhood field and inform the P2P process. More information about NAEYC’s work to expand the early childhood profession can be found here.

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