My three year old has been going to full time day care for over one and half year so all topics and issues relating to early childhood education and the teachers who form an integral part of it interest me tremendously. The other day I overheard a child care provider explaining how stressed she was that she was expected to live a decent life and feed her family on her meagre salary so I decided to do some research. The further I went into it, the more agitated and frustrated I became. I found out that while child care costs have been steadily and steeply increasing it appears that the same cannot be said for the teachers who provide such essential care to our children. Apparently child care workers tend to make comparatively lower salaries as compared to most other professions. Needless to say I was dumbfounded, how can we as a nation not make this a critical issue for debate, discussion and resolution. These child care providers spend extended time periods with children whose minds, bodies and sensibilities are still developing and who are so vulnerable. How can I expect that a stressed child care provider or teacher will be able to inspire, motivate and teach my child about the endless possibilities of the world around him when she is stressed about her own life and children? On the other had the business of child care is booming, me and my checkbook (and dwindling savings) bear witness to that.
According to the Council of Economic Advisors’2015 report titled “ The Economics of Early Childhood Investments” providing teachers with coaching and mentoring programs is one way to improve curriculum implementation and support high-quality student-teacher interactions and, as a result, improve student outcomes. All well and good but I was unable to find a strong recommendation for increasing the salaries that such teachers receive. Preschool teachers earned a median salary of $28,570 in 2015. The profession's top salaries were more than $51,990 a year, while the lowest salaries were $19,130 or less. Do you want even more disturbing news? Preschool teachers are paid less than mail order clerks, tree trimmers and pest control workers. Child care workers make less than hairdressers and janitors. In fact, most early childhood educators earn so little that they qualify for public benefits, including for the very programs they teach targeting low-income families. This is all according to the US Department of Education, doesn’t get more official than this.
In the words of Linda Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families back in June of 2016 “The quality of any early care and learning setting is directly related to the quality of the staff, their education and training and understanding of child development and the ability to translate that understanding through effective practice. Wage parity across settings is critical to attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce, essential for a high-quality program." There have been reports that unequivocally state that the science of child development and early learning clearly shows that the work of all lead educators for young children of ALL ages requires the same high level of sophisticated knowledge and expertise. So the argument used to justify the wage disparity between early education teachers and teachers who teach elementary school need to rethought or discarded altogether. A report from the Institute of Medicine in 2015 indicated that in order for preschool to be high-quality, the preschool teachers needed to have four year degrees and specialized training.
The importance we place on issues highlighted above shows our priorities as a nation or a lack thereof. By providing our early education teachers with salaries that enable them to teach without constant stress regarding their paychecks would incentivize such teachers to seek higher education, better training and overall provide them with the peace of mind to focus on the task at hand, which is the future of our next generation.
I urge you to contact your local representative, the Office of the Administration for Children & Families, and even Mr. President so this issue can be highlighted and important work can begin to reduce this wage gap. An email, a letter anything will do, let’s just begin and continue this conversation because it is an extremely important one.