Early childhood is a period of enormous growth and development. Children are developing more rapidly during the period from birth to age 5 than at any other time in their lives, shaped in large part by their experiences in the world. These early years of development are critical for providing a firm foundation in cognitive, language, and motor development, as well as social, emotional, regulatory, and moral development (NRC and IOM, 2000). Stimulating, nurturing, and stable relationships with parents and other caregivers are of prime importance to children’s healthy development, and the absence of these factors can compromise children’s development.
The individuals who comprise the early childhood care and education (ECCE) workforce are important providers of these early experiences. They form meaningful bonds with the children in their care, and their interactions, behaviors, and teaching practices all influence children’s development, as well as their later school readiness (NRC, 2001; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Pianta and Stuhlman, 2004). Moreover, they are affecting the development of an increasing proportion of U.S. children. Current estimates indicate that more than half of the 25.5 million U.S. children under age 6 spend time in the regular care of someone other than a parent in a typical week (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2011; Iruka and Carver, 2006). These arrangements can include center-based child care, preschool, family child care centers, or informal care arrangements with friends, family, and neighbors, both paid
and unpaid. The term “early childhood care and education” is inclusive of all these arrangements.
Policy-maker and public perception of ECCE is frequently at odds with the weighty responsibilities of this workforce, who influence so many facets of children’s development both in the short and long terms (Karoly et al., 2005). As the authors of From Neurons to Neighborhoods concluded:
The time is long overdue for society to recognize the significance of out-of-home relationships for young children, to esteem those who care for them when their parents are not available, and to compensate them adequately as a means of supporting stability, and quality in these relationships for all children, regardless of their families’ income and irrespective of their developmental needs. (NRC and IOM, 2000, p. 7)
Ten years since the publication of that report, most teachers and caregivers continue to receive low wages and to have low status, and are often described as “babysitters” or as “watching” children. Teachers in publicly funded preschool settings have fared somewhat better, but even these positions are viewed as low-status roles compared with elementary and secondary educators. The results of these circumstances include high turnover and few career opportunities in the field (Kagan et al., 2008).
The primary purpose of the early care or educational setting plays a role in shaping the perceptions and expectations for the workforce. Bellm and Whitebook (2006) describe two types of ECCE services—those with an educational focus and those whose primary function is to provide a safe setting that meets the basic needs of children of working parents. These purposes shape the terminology that describes the workforce (e.g., teachers versus caregivers), as well as policies and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels (Bellm and Whitebook, 2006).
Real differences between settings on degree of focus on educational goals relative to caring for children’s basic needs exist. However, opportunities to nurture healthy development and early learning occur in all of these settings, and some argue that children in all settings should experience effective practices regardless of the primary purpose of the care arrangement (NAEYC, 2009). Some have also argued that a workforce that can implement research-based practices is essential, not only because these high-quality experiences are beneficial to children, but also more importantly because the low-quality experiences that are so prevalent actually can harm children’s development and contribute to a widening achievement gap prior to kindergarten (Pianta et al., 2009).
These practices include providing a rich environment and nurturing care, teaching in an intentional manner, and making effective decisions in creative and appropriate ways (Hamre and Pianta, 2005; NAEYC, 2009;
Pianta et al., 2008). Ideally, this approach involves implementing curriculums, individually tailoring activities, and assessing progress, while responding flexibly to the varied personalities and basic care needs of the children and families they serve, all tasks that demand knowledge, skills, and flexibility. Adding to these demands are the greater numbers of children in poverty and children who are English-language learners, many of whom are from immigrant families (Garcia and Frede, 2010; Suárez-Orozco and Suárez-Orozco, 2001). These particular groups of children most frequently need these high-quality experiences and yet have limited access to them (NRC, 2001).
Studies have examined particular segments of the workforce (e.g., Head Start or state prekindergarten programs), but few data exist about this workforce as a whole to help policy makers develop strategies for improving early childhood care and education, or to evaluate the effectiveness of those policies (Brandon and Martinez-Beck, 2006). The available data indicate that the workforce is largely female and poorly compensated (see Chapter 2; Kagan et al., 2008); however, they vary widely in many other ways shaped by contextual factors at various levels. Working conditions, compensation, professional development opportunities, incentives and systems of recognition, and administrative support, as well as policies at the federal, state, and local levels, constitute the context that shape how this vital workforce functions.
ABOUT THE WORKSHOP AND THIS REPORT
Recognition of the critical importance of the ECCE workforce and the lack of attention that has been paid to it provided the impetus for a workshop conducted in Washington, DC, in March 2011 by the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, with the support of the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Over a day and a half, the workshop consisted of invited presentations, as well as discussion periods with discussant panels and workshop participants. More than 70 participants attended the workshop, in addition to planning committee members and invited speakers. Participants included researchers, policy analysts, association representatives, university faculty and administrators, leaders of state early childhood programs, administrators of ECCE programs, individuals involved with professional development, and federal staff from various agencies.
The primary purpose of the workshop was to provide an adequate description of the ECCE workforce, outlining the parameters that define that population. The planning committee interpreted this charge as encompassing three areas of examination: (1) defining and describing the
nature of the current ECCE workforce; (2) examining the characteristics of the workforce that affect the development of children; and (3) describing the context of the workforce and how best to build the ECCE profession in ways that promote program quality and effective child outcomes, while supporting the essential individuals who provide care and education.
The workshop presentations and discussions are described in this report. Chapter 2 focuses on ways to define, quantify, and describe the early childhood care and education workforce, and Chapter 3 discusses some of the economic and policy issues that affect it. Chapter 4 examines the effects that the characteristics of this workforce may have on children and their families, and Chapter 5 presents prospects for understanding the challenges that face the workforce and strategies for building the workforce and the profession. The final chapter summarizes the key themes that emerged from the presentations and discussions. The agenda, a list of workshop participants, and materials commissioned for the workshop are included as appendixes. These materials include two papers that summarize a review of the data on the ECCE workforce and provide relevant background information on selected federal workforce data systems. The presentations and other materials from the workshop may be found on the National Academies website at http://www.bocyf.org/early_childcare_workforce_workshop.html. This workshop report1 was prepared through collaboration among the study staff and the workshop planning committee.
1 The report summarizes the views expressed by workshop participants. Although the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in the report are not necessarily those of the committee.