Adapted from Transforming the Workforce Chapter 11
High levels of educator stress and
poor mental and physical health can inhibit the ability to effectively engage
with children, which is especially damaging since children’s learning depends
on the quality of interactions with adults.
Inadequate compensation is a primary source of stress. Low wages and minimal benefits lead to a workforce that is often
emotionally and physically unwell and dependent on public assistance.
Low compensation, limited support, and lack of
opportunities for career development make it difficult to attract and retain
The field suffers from high turnover, which means less
stability for children. Increasing compensation and
improving the work environment could lessen turnover.
Educators need preparation and workforce support that
equips them to serve children well and handle stressful situations.
benefits, staffing structures, opportunities for advancement and support,
employee turnover, and health and well-being all impact the workforce’s ability
to provide high-quality education and care to young children.
Hear stories and statistics about early educators working for very low pay under stressful conditions:
There is better
understanding now than ever before about the importance of early learning, yet
over the past 25 years, there have been no meaningful changes in the wages of those
caring for and educating our youngest children. Child care educators still earn
poverty-level wages, making less than pre-K teachers and earning less than half
of what K–12 educators do. Large disparities persist even when education
levels are comparable. Child care employees, mostly women, earn approximately
50 percent less than the average woman in the civilian workforce.
can also be limited for early educators working outside of public school
settings. A North Carolina workforce survey found that it was common for
centers not to provide health care or paid sick leave. Professionals working
outside of school settings also often have less access to supportive policies
and structures, such as paid planning time and stable schedules. These
professionals often experience economic insecurity and suffer the stress that
comes along with it. They often depend on public assistance programs or take on
second jobs to make ends meet.
wages and benefits and providing more opportunities for training and professional
learning, workforce well-being will continue to suffer. Poor staffing
structures and lack of opportunities for career advancement also diminish
quality of practice. Staffing policies determine what roles are needed and what
professionals in those roles must do. Professional learning systems need to be
able to prepare educators for the various roles. Unprepared and unsupported
educators are less equipped to provide children with what they need. A lack of
clearly defined professional development or career
pathways can make it difficult to recruit and retain high quality
High stress and unhappiness at work are associated
with high turnover, which means less stability for children. Staff turnover can compromise program quality and negatively impact
children since their development and learning depend upon secure relationships
and positive interactions with adults. The turnover rate in childcare centers
is four times higher than in elementary schools, on average, and inadequate
compensation is a primary reason. Raising salaries is especially important for
centers trying to retain staff with higher education and qualifications who
have the option of working in public schools.
The early education
and care workforce experiences more stress than many other fields.Experiencing depressive symptoms is
not uncommon, especially for those working with high-risk populations. A 2012 survey of Head Start staff members in
Pennsylvania found that they had poorer physical and mental health compared to
women in other fields. This is not only harmful for them, but also for the
children they serve.
“Many states or localities are describing pathways for career development to help with retention and recruitment of good educators. A common challenge in both cases is how to make these pathways reflective of increasing competency, as opposed to increasing education.” (pg. 470)
“High turnover rates can lower the quality of childcare and education programs, as frequent staff changes can have negative effects on children’s development—particularly for infants and toddlers, whose attachments and relationships with educators are disrupted.” (pg. 471)
Questions for Policymakers, Higher Education, and the Workforce
Are there viable career paths for
early childhood educators?
Is there pay parity between
educators working in pre-K through third grade?
Do educators have access to wages
and benefits that reflect the skilled nature of their work?
Do educators have access to
education and training programs needed to further their careers?
Are higher education programs able
to meet the needs (cost, scheduling, etc.) of early childhood educators already
in the workforce who wish to pursue higher education?
How do higher education programs
prepare educators to handle the stress of their jobs?
What types of support do educators have to improve their
well-being? What do they need?
This is a multimedia guidebook inspired by and drawn from the Transforming the Workforce for Children From Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation (National Academies Press, 2015). This guidebook adds to that volume with key takeaways, videos, interactive tools, a glossary, and more. We have designed it with three doorways for three different but overlapping audiences: educators who work directly with children, educators in higher education who prepare those educators, and policymakers interested in improving early learning settings for children from B–8.