One of my biggest takeaways from the childcare calculator we talked about recently was how much it would cost to increase early childhood educators’ wages. It wasn’t shocking—if you’re looking to get some laughs, ask any teacher you know if they’re in education to make big money—but it was a disappointing reminder of just how little we pay those who are shaping our future. The recently-released 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index gives us some specifics around compensation in early childhood education and care.
Nationally, the median wage for child care workers is $10.72 per hour, putting them in the 2nd percentile for wages. That means that 98% of workers make more money than the average infant or toddler teacher. It should be unsurprising, then, that over half of the families of child care workers (53%) were enrolled in public support or health care programs.
Pre-K teachers, regardless of care setting, are compensated slightly better, with a median wage of $13.94. The pay nearly doubles for preschool teachers in school-based settings, to $26.88, but even that is noticeably less than the median salaries for kindergarten ($31.29) and other elementary teachers ($32.98). And while the median American wage has increased slightly since 2015, this positive trend hasn’t been seen for preschool teachers (or their center directors). In fact, adjusted for inflation, preschool teachers are making about 1.4% less than they were in 2015.
The differences in pay aren’t just divided by setting—they’re related to the age of the children being cared for. Despite the fact that research is demonstrating the importance of birth-to-three learning, teachers working with younger children are systematically paid approximately $2 per hour less than those working with pre-K kids. One might hypothesize that this wage penalty for infant and toddler teachers has to do with educational requirements, which tend to be more regulated for teachers of older children. While teachers with higher educational attainment do make more, the age-wage gap exists at every level of education. In fact, a teacher with a Bachelor’s or graduate degree working with infants or toddlers could expect to make over $4 per hour less than if they’d instead chosen to work with three- to five-year-olds.
As with most issues in the labor market, race and gender also play a role in compensation for early childhood educators. Even accounting for educational attainment, white teachers earn more than educators of color. The report estimates that, on average, African Americans are paid $1,622.40 less per year than their white counterparts.
Whew...I’m emotionally exhausted just reading that. Effective early educators are crucial for children’s learning and development, but it’s hard to justify the effort of education and professional development for the low compensation. After all, who wants to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to pay for a Bachelor’s in early childhood education—the degree path with the lowest lifetime earning potential?
So what can be done to support young children and the adults who care for them? The authors of the report offer a few suggestions. One is for states to systematically increase wages. As they put it, “articulate compensation standards, make them mandatory, and provide both system reform and sufficient public funding to meet those standards.” Another is to create and foster pathways that allow teachers to become more highly qualified and to support them with scholarships, sponsorships, and educational assistance. States, localities, and programs can also craft policies that improve work environments, such as increased staffing or paid leave policies.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen progress in the early childhood field. Much of this comes on the shoulders of early childhood educators, who have been asked to do increasingly more to support children’s learning. Now, the science is catching up with policy. States are increasing funding for and enrollment in ECE. The 2018 federal budget provided an additional $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and Head Start also received a funding increase. With this financial investment comes the potential to better support the resource we have in every single classroom: educators.
Citation: Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L.J.E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early Childhood Workforce Index - 2018. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from http://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-workforce-2018-index/
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.