The Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (IEELI) at UMass Boston issued a report on the early education and care (ECE) workforce in Massachusetts demonstrating that many educators face low pay and barriers to their professional development. The data presented in the report serves as the foundation for a major statewide study of educators slated to be launched in 2019—- after nearly fifteen years since the last comprehensive report on the workforce was completed.
The Massachusetts Early Care and Education Workforce Study: Final Report Relevant to Survey Design focused on the strengths, challenges, and needs of the workforce with more than 70 experts from across the Commonwealth contributing their perspectives and experiences. Experts included early childhood educators, family child care providers, center directors, and other professionals such as consultants, academics, and case managers who participated in focus groups, surveys, and interviews conducted in Boston, Danvers, Greenfield, Lawrence, Roxbury, and Worcester.
“The early care and education workforce is a tremendous asset in our state and is responsible for the early care and education of 400,000 children age birth to five throughout the Commonwealth. The stakes for the state in ensuring that children receive quality care and education that supports their cognitive, social, emotional, and motor development are high, and we need to get this right,” said Professor Anne Douglass, IEELI’s executive director. “In order to do that, policy change must be driven and informed by experts—early educators.”
Researchers found that early educators are driven to keep current with the science of the field and use it in the classroom. Many have years of experience and are deeply motivated by the importance of caring for and educating young children and the joy they receive from it. “We weren’t surprised at the level of dedication and commitment to quality expressed by early educators – the vast majority of whom are women,” said research team member Christa Kelleher, PhD, research and policy director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. “But the mismatch between professional skill and compensation for early educators is profound.”
Members of the ECE workforce face challenges including a long history of low pay and inadequate benefits. Compensation does not match professional credentials, and a significant portion of the workforce experiences economic insecurity. In one of the eight focus groups conducted for this phase of the study, the median weekly pay among educators was $500 per week. Forty-one percent of participants reported receiving one form of public assistance; nearly 30 percent reported receiving at least two forms of public assistance. Participants with housing assistance highlighted particular concerns about their rent increasing if they received a pay raise.
“Extremely low pay creates an especially precarious situation for ECE workers, increasing the need for public assistance and putting these educators at risk for cliff effects,” said research team member Susan Crandall, PhD, director, Center for Social Policy. “The result is crushing financial stress for many ECE workers, hindering their advancement.”
The report indicated that there is evidence that the field is experiencing a significant shortage of both qualified educators and center directors and some early care programs are not operating at full capacity.
Additionally, early childhood educators face increasingly complicated needs in the classroom related to children living with the effects of trauma such as homelessness and parent death. Educators expressed eagerness for professional development opportunities at the entry, mid-career, and advanced career levels to increase their overall skills and deal more effectively with emerging needs, but there are few available. Furthermore, the cost of higher education combined with the demands of full-time work and family obligations are significant barriers to advancing their knowledge through advanced degree programs.
The next phase of the study – a statewide survey to be administered to educators in all settings and at all levels of career development – aims to inform the development of effective policy prescriptions to improve the quality of early education and care in the Commonwealth.
“The work of early educators sets a social and educational foundation for the children of the Commonwealth that will have lifelong consequences,” said research team member Ann Bookman, PhD, Director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. “Yet, our public policies—like those of many other states—do not reflect adequate public investment in this workforce. Our statewide survey will provide data to inform policies that will both meet the needs of children and compensate early educators appropriately for their foundational work.”