I think the most significant statement within these recommendations represents the ultimate lens from which to view them:
These recommendations in this document are both necessary and achievable and reflect research and experience on how to support children’s positive development and learning.
This statement not only promotes the assurance that all policy decisions are based on evidence-based knowledge basis (whether empirical numbers of qualitative data) but also it reflects the simultaneous focus on both development (social, emotional, physical, cognitive) and learning (related more to the academic side), not one or the other. These recommendations truly want to promote the nurturing of the whole child which flies in the face of the federal government’s current narrow academic mindset for young children educationally. It’s congressionally focused meaning that congress is the main audience to which these ideas should be acted upon in order to supply blanket policy for all programs, in all states in the spirit of equity. Ultimately, if implemented, these recommendations look to make early childhood accessible, affordable, community focused, family-sensitive, and professionally supportive.
Four areas are highlighted. I will highlight one section with each of my future posts.
Early Childhood Needs A Comprehensive System For Its Employees
One glaring fact: early childhood professionals make peanuts.
The average salary for an early childhood professional is between $18,000-20,000 a year (NIEER, 2005) unless you work in a public school setting. Then your salary is bumped up to between $25K and 30K depending on your teacher educational degree. On the surface, this does not look so bad, but remember please that many children (between 45-60%) and MOST early childhood professionals (between 55-65%) work in profit-based child care centers many of which do not supply in insurance and health benefits for the employees. That’s huge. Who wants to work for both a measly salary and no benefits?
On the whole, NAEYC recommends supply grants to the states for designing and implementing a career ladder system. In other words, it promotes the idea of early childhood professionals from family day care to public school participating in a continuing education framework that exists universally in all early childhood settings. I, for example, as a high school student working in a child care center would ideally realize that if I get my associates degree in early childhood education at a community college, I would be guaranteed to get a substantial pay raise. The same concept would apply if I went for my bachelor’s, my master’s, or my doctorate. Each level of educational proficiency would be accompanied by another substantial pay raise no matter my workplace setting. As it now stands, many child care centers cannot afford to give its employees a raise when they continue their education. That’s what keeps these centers from keeping the good professionals: many get their 4-year degree and bolt for public schools, higher salaries, and promises of a lawful, yearly—though minimal— pay raise.
The recommendations, though, are more problem-some than they look. Even if states did receive grants to design/implement a career ladder system, what then? The gap is still financial. Even if a compensation system and scholarship plan is put in place for educational attainment, where is this extra money coming from? What help will coordination between two and four year institutions provide other than smoother transition from one to another? The key is the money. When in comes to education—especially the expensiveness of early childhood—it always is.
I don’t know where, for example, South Carolina is going to get the money for this. It would probably cost nothing under $100 million dollars to meet the qualifications of the NAEYC recommendations for a career ladder system. With another $100 million at the minimum needed to bring/keep early childhood programs between infancy and fours up to optimal process quality, at least $200 million dollars a year must be ear marked for early childhood education each year. Pretty hard sell, I must admit L
I would recommend (1) that all congressional plans focus on the long-range result: each invested dollar in early childhood quality (teacher and program-wise) will yield at least $7 when these children get to middle/high school and (2) that congressional recommendations focus mostly on providing ways to bolster career-progression, not salary, for early childhood professionals.
There is, of course, is an upside and downside to all policy-decisions; that’s the way the cookie crumbles L
The upside is that focusing on career-progression will create a more competitive industry of employees, thus forcing centers to up their salaries in order to stay in business. Centers will realize that finding an AA-degreed early childhood professional may hurt their reputation when all of the other 10 centers in their geographic vicinity have 4-year college/master’s early childhood employees. To stay viable, they must fine-tune their system to create more attractive salaries. Here’s the downside: many centers will not be able to fine-tune their systems, and will go out of business, thus causing many families to put their children at other centers and creating over-crowding everywhere. Increasing the quality of the workforce makes it more expensive to higher quality professionals and weeds out the struggling businesses on the fringes of the industry. Many of the centers are of minimal or poor quality, yet many are the only choices for poverty-stricken/low-SES families. They will, thus, have no other alternative.
My prediction is that these recommendations, if carried out, will eventually make the average early childhood center much smaller, reduce the amount of infant/toddler components (the most expensive programs to maintain) of many centers, and increase the number of family day care programs. A 4-year teacher educated early childhood professional would get at minimum $25K, but probably will get closer to $30K in order for the center to stay competitive for employees. $30K is the equivalent of paying 1.5 early childhood professionals in today’s time. Consequently, a small child care center may only be able to afford 1-2 teachers meaning that their classes would have to be smaller in order to maintain quality adult:student ratios. This may yield a reduction in the overall number of classrooms at a center with the expensive infant/toddler programs (the most needed) being the first candidates to be eliminated. Seeing a dearth in the number of available infant/toddler programs, many family child care centers may be open by the increasing numbers of bachelor degreed early childhood professionals in order to meet these needs. Thus infant/toddler programs may become the territory of family child care rather than center-based child care.
More to follow. Next: A Continuum of Positive Development and Learning Recommendations.