The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has commissioned UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation to conduct a statewide survey of early childhood educators. Led by Anne Douglass, executive director of Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, this research study also draws on the expertise of researchers from the McCormack Graduate School’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy and Center for Social Policy. The survey will inform the development of policy solutions to improve the quality of early education and care in Massachusetts as well as the economic security of educators.
“Every day in Massachusetts, the early care and education workforce provides for the well-being and the cognitive, social, emotional, and motor development of 400,000 children under age five,” Douglass aid. “Yet it has been more than 15 years since the last comprehensive survey of this vital workforce was conducted. If we are to solve our current crisis of affordability and access to high-quality early care and education, we must hear from early educators on the front lines about their challenges and successes as well as their ideas for reform.”
Researchers will survey a representative sample of center-based educators and administrators and family childcare owners and educators across Massachusetts. Data will be collected on three policy-relevant topics:
- compensation and employer-provided benefits; financial status; and debt load;
- the use of public assistance, with a focus on how incremental increases in income can result in much more consequential decreases in public benefits. The phenomenon, known as the “cliff effect” has not been well-studied among early educators and may have significant, unintended consequences that create a permanent state of financial instability; and
- professional preparation, credentials, and development.
“This survey will provide valuable information about the needs of our early education providers and the children and families they serve,” said Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber. “UMass Boston’s research builds upon recent initiatives to support educators including the Massachusetts Professional Development System and historic rate increases, and will help inform the state’s efforts to improve early education program quality.”
The survey builds on findings from UMass Boston’s 2018 report, The Massachusetts Early Care and Education Workforce Study: Final Report Relevant to Survey Design, which focused on the strengths, challenges, and needs of the early education workforce through interviews with more than 70 experts from across the state. That report provided evidence that the field is experiencing a significant shortage of both qualified educators and center directors. Further, some early care programs are not operating at full capacity. It also found that early childhood educators face increasingly complicated needs in the classroom related to children living with the effects of trauma such as homelessness, parent addiction, and early 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 educators’ knowledge through advanced degree programs.
“We need to better understand how early educators are balancing public benefits with their low earnings, which makes retention in the profession precarious,” said Susan Crandall, director of the Center for Social Policy, “Further, we need to understand the extent to which their debt load is creating barriers to professional advancement.”
“Early care and education influence a child’s life well into adulthood,” said research team member Christa Kelleher, PhD, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. “To ensure that every child from birth to age five has access to quality programs and that early educators are compensated fairly, we need data from the field. Only then can we develop public policies that both support early educators and benefit the youngest children in our commonwealth.”