Developing the Early Childhood Workforce: Success and Challenges

Below, two bloggers respond to a study summarized by the New America Foundation, which details the recent gains and challenges of the early education workforce.

Najeema Holas-Huggins responds:

Najeema Holas-Huggins Early Ed Watch’s recent article on the release of a new study documenting the prevalence and history of low wages in early education provides the opportunity to view the Commonwealth’s investment in early education in the context of nationwide improvements and disappointments.  “The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce from 1990 through 2010: Changing Dynamics and Persistent Concerns” reports that currently 62% of the workforce has some college education.  A 2012 Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC) analysis of teaching staff in center-based early education and family child care providers with records in the Massachusetts Professional Qualifications Registry shows that nearly three-quarters (74.7%) of the sample had some college education. Salaries in MA are higher than the national average—$26,000, reported from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics vs. $16,215 – although the cost of living in MA is significantly higher as well.  Furthermore, Boston is a leader in the expansion of pre-k in public schools.  Research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows moderate to significant gains for children in these classes, and it’s worth noting that teachers in this setting are paid substantially more than their peers in center-based and family child care.  Combined with Governor Patrick’s passage of the FY14 budget that includes a significant investment in early education, MA residents have a lot to be proud of.  Early education has an ardent and devoted group of advocates from all walks of life, including higher education, businesses, professional associations, community groups, and parents.  They all deserve a round of applause for championing the issue of early education over the past few years.

“A single mother with one young child needs nearly $51,384 to live in MA without government assistance, according to Crittenton Women’s Union.  Early educator salaries fall dreadfully short of that number.”

While much has been achieved, there is certainly room for improvement in the existing system, particularly around support for the workforce.  A single mother with one young child needs nearly $51,384 to live in MA without government assistance, according to Crittenton Women’s Union .  Early educator salaries fall dreadfully short of that number.  Another rate reserve increase, with funds earmarked for salaries in the next fiscal year would be helpful.  The state’s push for early educators to obtain college degrees is also commendable, but many center administrators lament their inability to offer substantial pay increases when their staff earn degrees.  Support from the state in the form of increased funding for the MA Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Fund would be a great first step.


Teddy Kokoros responds:

Picture2 A recent study and a subsequent article posted on The New America Foundations Early Ed Watch blog found small improvements in both the educational attainment and pay of people in the Early Education workforce. I have been in the Early Childhood Education field for over 10 years now and my anecdotal evidence along with what I hear from colleagues in the field mirrors those trends. There is a sense that incremental improvements have been made in terms of salaries and education levels of teachers which have resulted in improvements in the quality of teaching and children’s outcomes. Unfortunately, the advancement in both teacher training and pay continues to  move along at a snail’s pace and has a long way to go to meet Obama’s goals of a well-educated and trained workforce that can provide quality early education access for all. Part of the reason for this is that for many entering the field, Early Education is looked at as a temporary stepping stone and not a career.

“…Early Education is looked at as a temporary stepping stone and not a career.”

In the past five years, whenever a teacher assistant position has opened we have had a flood of candidates who are more than qualified apply for the position. Most of the candidates had Bachelor’s Degrees and some even had Master’s degrees. This is surprising because assistant preschool teacher positions pay hovers around $30,000; but not as shocking when one remembers the scarcity of jobs during the recession. However, in the interview process a persistent theme emerged. The people applying for the position did not intend to stay in the Early Education field. Most had long term goals of becoming an Elementary School Teacher, Occupational Therapist, or some other job related to helping children that has the potential to eventually make a living wage. I have even heard some early educators talk about the goal of eventually getting a “real” teaching job.

All of us in the early education field or anyone who cares about children’s development should be concerned with the stubborn belief that an early educator is a less  important cog in our educational system than a K-12 educator.  We must use the economic and scientific evidence to change the public and policy-makers’ perceptions about early education and advocate for higher pay. Unless the early education field gets the societal respect and equivalent pay of teachers in the K-12 ages groups, we may never be able to recruit and keep a highly educated and well trained early education workforce.


Najeema Holas-Huggins is the Manager of Marketing and Associate Researcher for the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC). In this role, she’s worked for nearly four years to increase the visibility for BTWIC and its work and impact on children, families, and the early education field in Massachusetts through traditional marketing activities, social media, and donor cultivation. She has also co-authored multiple research reports, including BTWIC’s 2010 “Blueprint for Early Education Compensation Reform.”

Teddy Kokoros has worked for over 8 years  as a Pre-K Teacher at the non-profit Transportation Children Center in Boston.  he also works as an adjunct professor  in the Early Childhood Education Departments of Fisher College and Bay State College. He got his Master’s in Education from The Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in Language and Literacy, a Bachelor’s degree from UMass Boston in Sociology, and an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Bay State College. You most likely will find him biking along the Charles River or talking about the Red Sox.


I am a Wheelock alum and have been a home daycare provider for the past 12 years. While I appreciate your interest in the issue of pay for people in my profession, there are many factors that affect it that you did not consider. For one, we are not paid by tax dollars. Educators in the K-12 school system are. We set our own rates which should be in keeping with cost of living otherwise we will not stay in business. No one EVER talks about daycare or preschool as being affordable even though daycare providers are paid very little.

Another is the overregulation of our industry. While requiring early childhood educators to pursue a degree could be seen as commendable, it is an enormous expense – one that will drive people out of the profession. I know lots of people who are passionate about working with children but can’t afford to stay in the industry (hence the “temporary stepping stone” effect) or encounter issue after issue with the State. State regulation is a hidden but very real cost that is directly and adversely affecting our industry.

And lastly is the fact that our industry is pretty stratified. There are home providers, centers, preschools, camps, etc., etc. Some are subsidized by the State while others aren’t. Some are in affluent areas, and others aren’t. There’s no real overlap, so you can’t make generic statements about the industry as a whole.

Like I said, I appreciate the level of interest in this topic, but I wish you had gone into more depth. It is not something that can or should be “fixed.” Certainly not by more State intervention – just the opposite would actually improve things. It is what it is – capitalism at its best.

Posted @ Thursday, July 18, 2013 9:20 AM by Kristen Arute

Hello Kristen,

Thanks for your response. First off, I fully agree that this is a multifaceted issue and many of the points your brought up were important ones. For this blog post, we were only to write about 3 paragraphs which would not give enough space to fully address all those issues you brought up. There is a great book which you probably have already read called the “ The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies and Issues” by Edward Ziglar that goes into all those topics your brought up and gives different perspectives on them. I urge anyone who wants to look into all the topics you raised in your response to read it. On many of these issues, I admit I am still an agnostic and have not fully decided which side may be the right one. For example, I fear that Preschool is becoming more regulated much as our public schools are being regulated by the Common Core; however, I do believe that some of the government standards and possible extra money going into early education that President Obama and Governor Patrick have proposed can have positive effects on the ECE workforce. Especially if the money is funneled in some ways to early educators to make it more financially feasible to stay in the field

Posted @ Thursday, July 18, 2013 10:53 AM by Teddy Kokoros

Compensation for early care and education (ECE) providers is a crucially important topic for the economic stability of the providers and for the quality of ECE for the children cared for. As we all know, many parents are paying all that they can possibly afford for ECE. Therefore, the solution has to be other sources of revenue for the ECE field. Government support has to be one of them; tax dollars and incentives must and should support ECE as they do K-12 and higher education. In addition, we need innovative strategies such as an endowment to support ECE, similar to the endowments that support our colleges and universities. Early investments in human capital, namely healthy child and brain development, are certainly as important and probably more important than investments later in life.

Posted @ Sunday, July 21, 2013 5:10 PM by John Lippitt