The Value of Our Early Education Workforce: On Worthy Wage Day 2014

Categories:
Child Care, Early Childhood, Education, Head Start, Jobs/ Employment, Women’s Issues

Photo of a teacher instructing preschool children.By Shannon Rudisill, Director, Office of Child Care

One of the great pleasures of my job is meeting early childhood teachers. In the past year, I’ve spoken at a graduation for early educators getting their degrees in the District of Columbia, celebrated the career of a Navajo Nation teacher retiring after decades of service, and bestowed awards on family child care providers who are leading the way on health and nutrition for children. If one thing is true from the infant child care room to the college lecture hall, it is that the teacher is the most important ingredient in a high-quality learning experience. That is why the Administration for Children and Families has been working to shine a spotlight on the importance of our early education workforce.

We know more about our early education workforce than ever before, thanks to the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), a nationally representative survey funded by ACF. Our early childhood education workforce is two million strong, meaning that paid early educators working with children birth through age five years make up 45 percent of America’s teachers (birth through high school). About half of early educators work in child care centers and schools and half work in family child care homes. 

Child Care worker reading to a student.More than before, early educators are achieving their own educational goals. Our data showed that around half of all center-based teachers had college degrees — split between associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees — and close to half of center-based teachers of four year olds have bachelor’s or higher.  We are proud of the progress we’ve made in increasing the education levels of early educators through policies and investments in Head Start, pre-K, and scholarship initiatives funded with the Child Care and Development Fund.

But there is still work to do — namely, raising the compensation for early childhood teachers. The NSECE showed that even as our early educators are more qualified than before, annual wages still hover at around an average of $22,000 per year across all education levels. Teachers working in centers with a bachelor’s degree could expect to make more, about $28,000. We also learned that even after we take into account difference in education levels and settings, infant and toddler teachers make significantly less than preschool teachers, even though they are fostering children’s development and learning during their most rapid period of brain development.

The President’s Early Learning Agenda would work to raise wages for early educators. The Administration’s Preschool for All Plan would bring universal preschool to all four year-olds under 200 percent of poverty, with a stipulation that preschool teachers be paid wages commensurate with teachers in K-12. HHS’s Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships would bring Early Head Start’s great teaching and comprehensive services to tens of thousands of infants and toddlers — and bring the necessary financing to begin to improve the pay of infant care-givers and toddler teachers. Worthy Wage Week is a great time to reflect on how far we have come, honor the teachers who work with our youngest children, and recommit to finding ways to pay them what they earn. 

Learn more about the National Survey of Early Care and Education’s Workforce findings and the President’s Early Learning Agenda.