The workshop planning committee was asked to plan a workshop that would provide an adequate description of the early childhood care and education (ECCE) workforce and outline the parameters that define the population. To better understand the nature of those characteristics, the workshop they planned examined the research on how the workforce affects the development of children, as well as how context shapes the workforce. Presenters examined the challenges and the opportunities that exist within this context to build ECCE as a profession and to support the individuals who provide care and education for young children. This chapter summarizes the main messages from the presentations and discussion on each of these questions, together with key points from the final workshop discussion.
Defining and describing the ECCE workforce is challenging in large part because the purpose and nature of the work, the characteristics of the individuals who do this work, and the settings in which it is done vary a great deal, as discussed in Chapter 2. Care and education are provided in many types of settings, and even those in the field may disagree about its boundaries.
The data available about the workforce vary by type of program and from state to state. This variability and the lack of complete data make it nearly impossible to get a complete picture of the entire ECCE
workforce. The presentations and discussions suggested these issues are not only important technical questions pertaining to data collection; they also reflect a lack of precision in the way the field views and organizes itself and conveys to policy makers and the public its value to children and families.
A presenter explored the boundaries within the ECCE workforce, offering definitions of the occupation (those paid for direct care and education of young children), the sector (those in the occupation plus others employed by the same organizations), and the enterprise (those in the sector plus others whose paid work may have a direct influence on caregiving or educational practice). Comments by participants indicated that the field continues to grapple with how to define its borders in a way that is practical but also captures the reality of the work.
Despite the gaps in the available data, presentations identified points that are clear. The workforce is large, accounting for 2.2 million paid workers who make up 30 percent of the total U.S. instructional workforce, including those employed in teaching from early education through higher education (see Chapter 2 and Appendix B). These workers are predominantly female, but they vary by age, race, ethnicity, linguistic and cultural background, family income level, and years of experience, as well as in their expectations and sense of professional identification.
The qualifications these workers bring to the job also vary, and the majority of them have not earned a college degree. These workers vary widely in the degree to which they possess the attitudes, orientations, and skills that have been demonstrated to affect the quality of caregiving and developmental outcomes for children, presentations showed. Compensation is low across the educational spectrum: ECCE workers are poorly compensated in comparison to others with equivalent education.
Several presenters and discussants observed that existing data are not adequate to answer many important policy questions. Federal data systems provide much of the available data, in the form of both large and small one-time studies. Information is also available from registries in some states. The existing federal datasets have advantages. They are well established and permit comparisons of the ECCE workforce with others, and they have produced a valuable body of knowledge. However, decision makers also want more complete information about trends in the characteristics of the workforce as a whole, the influence of market and policy forces on those characteristics, and the relationships between those characteristics and quality of care and outcomes for children.
Workshop discussion highlighted two primary issues that limit the usefulness of existing datasets. First, current guidelines for classifying ECCE workers in federal data systems do not correspond well to the jobs these workers actually do. Second, federal data systems are not designed
to capture the detailed information about the workforce that would be useful to policy makers and researchers who want to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, practices, and policies.
In particular, a number of presenters and participants noted, researchers cannot easily use the available data to identify the specific types and levels of training, qualifications, and support that are necessary to achieve the desired levels of quality. These datasets also do not capture differences among types of programs, such as preschool, Head Start, child care, and family child care. More detailed knowledge, participants suggested, could support the design and implementation of workforce development strategies (e.g., compensation, recruitment, retention, pre- and in-service professional development, and ongoing monitoring and support) in a cost-effective manner. Useful models from K–12 education data sources and forward-looking states indicate the need for federal–state partnerships using a combination of sources and types of data collection. Discussion highlighted how improved data collection could bring greater richness and precision to the development of the most cost-effective policies for improving the quality of the workforce and the capacity for monitoring the success of new and existing policies.
Care and education for young children is provided for a fee in an open marketplace. Economic forces have a significant influence on its availability, quality, and cost, as discussed in Chapter 3. There are limits to parents’ willingness or capacity to pay more for higher quality of care, economic analysis has shown. At the same time, the supply of people willing to work in early childhood care and education for relatively low wages is elastic, and the field has high rates of job turnover. Thus, despite the tremendous increase in the demand for child care that has occurred as mothers of young children have increased their labor force participation, the wages of ECCE workers have remained relatively flat. Government policies, such as regulations and standards, as well as funding allocations also influence this market. As long as these factors do not change, a presentation made clear, it will be difficult to increase wages enough to attract and retain well-qualified staff, and to encourage existing staff to increase their qualifications.
Research (described in Chapter 3) has demonstrated significant short-and long-term benefits of high-quality care and education for young children, although programs that target disadvantaged children may have larger returns than programs that also serve children who are not disadvantaged. Better datasets and new approaches to calculating the
costs and benefits of child care, presentations suggested, hold promise for demonstrating the value of high-quality care and education for all children. Approaches developed for other fields, participants suggested, have helped researchers assign economic value to long-term benefits that are more difficult to measure. Results for a number of early childhood programs indicate that the longest term benefits are generally the greatest—the more data that are accumulated, and the greater the time for benefits to emerge, the greater the quantifiable value of the return on investment. As described in Chapter 3, these analyses are likely to prove particularly useful for policy makers who need to choose among policy alternatives or assess the impact of particular interventions.
Both theory and data indicate that improvements to the quality of the workforce and the workplace will make a difference in outcomes for children, as presenters explained. A variety of research approaches have been used to investigate the relations among caregiver characteristics, the structural features of child care, child care experiences, and children’s development (see Chapter 4). Results vary with the age of the children served (e.g., infants, toddlers, preschool-age), and, as in the K–12 sector, it is difficult to isolate specific causal relationships in a complex process. Results from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care, one study that has explored these connections, showed that higher quality and improved outcomes for very young children were associated with factors such as lower child-to-adult ratios, small group size, and a high-quality physical environment. Caregiver characteristics, such as non-traditional beliefs about child rearing, education and training, experience, conscientiousness, and a positive attitude toward the job, were important predictors of quality for preschoolers. These predictors varied with the ages of the children, and the evidence showed that low child-to-adult ratios are especially important for infants and toddlers.
The benefits to children of high-quality care have been demonstrated empirically (though definitions of quality vary), a presentation made clear, but several discussants noted that the evidence regarding the types of teacher qualifications or experiences likely to yield high-quality care and education is less clear (see Chapter 4). Specifically, inconsistent findings about the value of a bachelor’s degree for predicting teacher effectiveness have fueled debate about requirements for teachers. Teacher preparation programs vary widely in quality, and are often reliant on part-time faculty. Other research indicates that training can be quite effective in improving teaching practices. However, discussion suggested that
possession of a bachelor’s degree, targeted training, or any other single factor alone does not seem to reliably predict high quality. A presenter emphasized that one reason for the equivocal findings is that existing research on the factors that produce desired child outcomes has lacked rigor. Specifically, he stated that more experimental research is needed to understand what teacher and caregiver behaviors and characteristics are causally linked with child outcomes.
Several participants emphasized the need to the search for “silver bullet” solutions. A presenter recommended the evaluation of “packages” of program characteristics associated with a mix of high quality and program effectiveness, which would likely include: well-educated teachers; adequate compensation; strong curriculum and professional development; small classes and reasonable teacher-to-child ratios; good working conditions (paid planning time, substitutes, regular meetings, etc.); strong supervision, monitoring, and review; and both high standards and continuous improvement. Others noted that an environment that allows teachers to apply what they have learned through high-quality preparation and training is also very important.
Researchers have also explored the ways in which racial, ethnic, and language diversity among children and caregivers may influence child outcomes (see Chapter 4). The evidence presented at the workshop suggests that the caregivers’ sensitivity and the amount of stimulation provided to children are more important than whether caregivers are similar demographically to the children they care for and educate. However, the research discussed suggested that differences in language background may be more significant, and that children whose home language is not English should have teachers who are bilingual and trained to work with dual-language children.
The conditions in which teachers and caregivers work also have an important influence on outcomes for children, a presentation emphasized. Young children are vulnerable to stress, and continued exposure to situations that cause them to produce high levels of stress hormones can have lasting effects on their development. New research about the specific ways children are affected by stress indicates the profound importance of the quality of the caregiving environment. What is less clear is how to determine the threshold between beneficial care and care that causes stress. Emerging research has pointed to factors—particularly a secure attachment between child and caregiver and the emotional and mental well-being of the caregiver—that are important components of beneficial care. Several presenters and participants suggested that existing quality measures used for licensure and other purposes may not be adequately capturing this critical aspect of care.
Job turnover in ECCE settings is high, a presentation made clear, and
highest for the youngest children, who are most vulnerable to lack of stability. Children experience turnover in caregivers as a loss; high turnover also affects the morale of the remaining staff and constrains their ability to work effectively. This circumstance both undermines the quality of care and also reflects aspects of the work environment that are not attractive to highly qualified candidates. Turnover is closely linked with wages. Wage levels in early education and care are very low, in comparison with other fields. Presentations and multiple participants made the point that a supportive workplace that will attract highly motivated and well-qualified workers is one that offers adequate wages and benefits. A supportive workplace is also a learning environment in which workers have the opportunity to discuss and reflect on their work and are empowered to make changes as they learn new practices and skills.
Many presenters and participants emphasized that the early childhood care and education workforce is vitally important to children’s well-being and their cognitive, social, and emotional development (see Chapter 5). People who hold these jobs are part of a workforce that has relatively low status and low pay, but the responsibility entrusted to them is extremely serious, as many presenters and participants noted. Making a career in this field more attractive to potential workers, one person observed, will require a large and potentially costly public policy effort to regulate and professionalize the occupation along the lines of public K–12 education. Evidence indicates that such investments can yield substantial improvements in program quality and child development, but presenters and participants suggested that more information about the circumstances in which the benefits exceed the costs is needed.
Moving the ECCE workforce to view itself and function as a profession will be a challenge, many participants noted. Professions are often characterized by entry qualifications, such as a degree and/or a certification, and these requirements are often lacking in ECCE, some observed. As discussed in Chapter 5, other emerging professions, particularly in the health sciences, have shown that the capacity to use data and research to guide changes in standards and practice is essential. Experience in health care suggests that ECCE would benefit if it offered more clearly defined career pathways, based on guidance for students planning their careers, support and mentoring for new teachers, and career ladders that offer financial and other rewards for learning new skills and shouldering new responsibilities. Several presenters pointed to emerging data on promising practices in professional development that can offer empirically based guidance on which features are most important.
Standards exist for training and development and other aspects of quality, but they overlap and are mostly voluntary presenters and participants noted. Existing systems, several participants and discussants suggested, are also not well integrated across sectors such as child care, Head Start, public prekindergarten, and early intervention programs. Multiple initiatives across these sectors have different funding streams, missions, and standards. If these overlapping segments of the field can be integrated and their efforts coordinated, many participants suggested, the result will be improvements not only in preparation and training for teachers, but also in the quality of the care and education they provide. More than one participant emphasized the importance of ensuring that the needs and roles of the special education community are considered in future coordination efforts.
The ECCE field currently does not function as a cohesive system, many presenters and participants observed, and they considered several specific avenues for improvement.
The need for more systematic data collection was a theme noted repeatedly throughout the workshop. Models such as the K–12 public education system and innovative state efforts provide guidance for the development and improvement of early childhood data systems. Participants also identified some goals for both data collection and analytic research.
With regard to data collection systems, various participants noted the value of:
Reliable estimates of the size and characteristics of the workforce at both the individual occupational level and the organizational or establishment level;
Data collection that is consistent over time and occurs at frequent enough intervals to capture the effects of changes in economic conditions, major public policy shifts, and other influences;
The capacity to disaggregate data by state, and, for some information, by local jurisdiction and program type;
Information about the factors that have been shown to be reliable predictors of quality caregiving, with disaggregation by the ages of children 0 to 5 years; and
Data that can be used by different actors, including parents, providers, policy makers, and researchers.
Many participants also emphasized that collaborative partnership among federal and state policy makers and private funders is a promising way to implement a coordinated set of data sources, collected on an ongoing basis, to meet these objectives.
Experimental or quasi-experimental studies are also needed, many participants noted, and they highlighted several possible research goals:
Explore the specific levels of qualifications, working conditions, support, and compensation necessary to recruit and retain a workforce that delivers high-quality care and instruction. That is, provide guidance on the degree of quality improvement that can be expected to produce different types of education and training at varying levels of investment;
Explore the types and amounts of professional development that are effective in improving the quality of caregiving in different settings and circumstances (e.g., centers versus home care providers);
Compare the cost-effectiveness of different strategies and techniques for improving the quality of the early childhood workforce;
Estimate the benefit-to-cost ratios for investments in better qualified and adequately compensated staff, including investments such as professional development activities, rewards for performance, and overall increases in the scale of compensation;
Measure the impact of market forces, public policy, and societal expectations on the characteristics and performance of the ECCE workforce; and
Identify relevant similarities or differences in workforce characteristics and needs for children of different age groups (e.g., infants, toddlers, preschoolers), and specific subpopulations (e.g., children with special needs and English-language learners).
Numerous presenters and participants highlighted the importance of the ECCE workforce to the quality of care and education young children receive. They emphasized that while high-quality programs offer great benefits to children and society, care and education that are of poor or even mediocre quality can limit or harm children’s development. The varying purposes of and expectations for ECCE, whether focused on enabling parents to work or enhancing child development, have complicated efforts to develop clear occupational definitions, meaningful entry requirements that relate in predictable ways to the quality of care and
education, and a cohesive profession, ideas that a number of participants shared during the workshop.
Several participants observed that parents and policy makers alike need a greater understanding of the vital work of the ECCE workforce to help it gain the respect it deserves. As presentations and discussions made clear, this understanding is needed because of the real inherent risks to children in the current system, especially for those in poverty, many of whom participate in settings without teachers and caregivers who are prepared for or supported in their roles. Throughout the workshop, the need for accurate, timely, and meaningful data on the workforce was a theme that repeatedly emerged. Many participants saw better data systems as a critical step toward educating the public about the true nature of the ECCE workforce, targeting ECCE policies efficiently, and knowing whether investments made in the workforce were effective. Many participants recommended that future solutions take into account the context of the workforce, noting that “silver bullet” solutions to challenges do not exist, and that the most successful programs address an array of factors affecting the workforce. In considering how the ECCE workforce might move forward in the future as a profession where the specialized knowledge of early childhood development and pedagogy is developed, recognized, and rewarded, one presenter expressed: “You need the research, you need the data, both [for] the proof, the problem, and to identify the solution. You need individual champions [who are] persistent about their ideas and their goals.” Workshop participants were charged to be the leaders of that positive change for the ECCE profession and ultimately for children and families.
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