New DC Regulations Bring Changes to Child Care

The changes include new degree requirements for child care teachers and directors

In December 2016 DC’s Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) published new regulations concerning the licensing of child care centers (click here for a brief summary of the regulations). The majority of these regulations, which cover topics ranging from the frequency of fire safety inspections to immunization requirements, had not been updated since 2007.

The main impetus behind updating the regulations was the need to ensure that DC child care centers are in compliance with the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant of 2014 (CCDBG). But, DC officials also used the opportunity to increase educational requirements for teachers and center directors (more on this in a moment). The CCDBG reauthorization was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in order to better protect the health and safety of children in child care facilities and enhance the quality of children’s experiences.

OSSE’s revised regulations now fulfill CCDBG rules by increasing the amount of information available to the public about the health and safety records of facilities. The following information will now be made available to the public electronically: dates and results of monitoring and inspections, substantiated complaints about failures to comply with regulations, and the number of deaths, serious injuries, and instances of child abuse that occur in a facility. Having this information available electronically should make it much easier for parents to research the records of specific facilities. The new regulations also require that all staff members and volunteers associated with child care facilities undergo a criminal background check prior to being hired and at least once every three years. And the new DC regulations require all licensed facilities accepting public funding to participate in OSSE’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). A well-designed QRIS can help child care programs continuously improve and provide parents with helpful information about program quality through the use of a tiered-rating system. The DC QRIS is currently being revised.

For the most part the new DC regulations are fairly straightforward. It’s the new staff qualifications that have generated some controversy. The regulations require lead teachers in child care facilities to possess an associate’s degree by 2020 and center directors to possess a bachelor’s degree by 2022, making DC among the first in the nation to require a college degree to teach and care for young children. Directors and teachers who have been in the same position for ten years or more can apply to be exempt from the new degree requirements. 

As of 2013, only two other states require child care lead teachers to have an associate's or bachelor’s degree. A handful of others require a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The vast majority of states, however, require little more than a high school diploma. Seventeen don’t even require that.

These degree requirements for child care teachers are partly a response to a National Academies of Science consensus report that recommended transitioning to a minimum bachelor’s degree requirement for all lead teachers working with children from birth through third grade. While implementation of this recommendation certainly poses challenges, the report argued that it is necessary because in order to provide young children with the learning and developmental opportunities they need their teachers should possess the same high level of knowledge and competencies as their counterparts in elementary school. 

Some critics have been quick to voice opposition to the new regulation. Their concerns include potentially higher child care costs for DC parents who already face the highest costs in the nation - an annual average of $22,631 for an infant. Others raised questions about the fairness of requiring teachers who earn an average hourly wage of only about $11 (in 2015) to pay for higher education in order to keep their jobs. While increasing educational requirements is a step toward professionalization, there is no guarantee that child care teachers actually receive significantly higher pay as a result of obtaining an associate’s degree. This makes retention of newly degreed teachers very challenging.

Another concern is whether there are high-quality degree programs to ensure teachers and directors obtain the knowledge and competencies they really need. Much like K-12 educator preparation programs, there is evidence to suggest the quality of early childhood education programs is mixed. Many programs do not deliver content based on the latest, or most relevant research, nor do they connect teachers to the practical experiences they need to be successful. Attention must be given to improving teacher and director preparation programs as well.

These are valid concerns and important considerations for DC and states across the country planning to institute new educational requirements for the early education workforce. Teachers of young children absolutely need to possess in-depth knowledge of topics such as child development and know how to, among other things, engage in high-quality interactions with young children and build their early language and literacy skills. At the same time, however, teachers need better compensation, resources to assist them in advancing their education, and degree or other credentialing programs that meet their needs as current employees, many of whom have families and other pressing responsibilities. These issues must be addressed jointly.

To the credit of DC leaders, as a recent Washington Post article discusses, the district is funding T.E.A.C.H. scholarships to help child care teachers afford the cost of obtaining a college degree. And the degree requirement for lead teachers isn’t set to take effect until December 2020, about three and a half years from today. 

In the next few months, New America will be publishing a paper that addresses some of the critic’s arguments and puts forward ideas for another approach for providing child care teachers with the specialized knowledge and the practical experiences they need to be effective educators while also taking steps to ensure current teachers aren’t displaced in the process. And, you can read our other blog posts on transforming the early education workforce here.

Author:

Aaron Loewenberg is a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. He is a member of the  Early & Elementary Education team, where he provides research and analysis on policies that impact children from birth through third grade.