Early educators wear a lot of hats: they’re educators and advocates, they advise parents, and they help with public problems like the opioid crisis.
They are also woefully underpaid, and this creates, as House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said, an early childhood education (ECE) workforce crisis.
To better define the crisis, Strategies for Children has released a new policy brief – “ECE Workforce Needs: Local Solutions from Preschool Planning” – that’s written by Jenna Knight, an intern at Strategies and a student at Tufts University’s Eliot-Pearson Child Study & Human Development program.
“One thing that stood out for me is how typical these workforce needs are across the state and nation, but the community-generated approaches such as the ones I’ve highlighted come from a strengths-based lens,” Knight says. “Empowering communities to collaborate, identify connections, and use approaches that work for their needs and for families being served is essential to making effective progress, particularly on ECE workforce needs.”
“Since 2016,” the brief explains, “15 communities across Massachusetts have been awarded Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative grants by the state Department of Early Education and Care.” In March, three additional communities received these preschool planning grants.
A review of these local plans for preschool expansion identified five workforce themes:
• the need for more early educators who have degrees
• pay equity
• the challenges of recruiting and retaining early educators
• accessible professional development, and
• professional development for teachers who work with specific populations
The brief also quantifies the need, noting, for example, that in fiscal year 2016 Holyoke needed 37 teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and Springfield needed 54.
Athol, Cape Cod, Fall River, Lowell, New Bedford, and Springfield are struggling with pay equity as well as recruitment and turnover because of the fact that “In Massachusetts, the average salary for a public school Kindergarten teacher is $67,000 compared to the average annual preschool teacher wage of $25,000.”
In Athol, Cape Cod, Holyoke, North Adams, and Somerville, there’s a need for more accessible professional development programs because “Schedule, location, transportation, and cost are all barriers to teachers…”
To spotlight progress on these challenges, the brief points to creative workforce solutions such as the Department of Early Education and Care’s ECE Scholarship Program for students pursuing early education degrees – as well as the QRIS Improvement Grant, which offers funds for professional development. These and other programs are important steps that Massachusetts can build on.
Of course, early educators collaborating at the local level also need outside partners. As the brief concludes: “…while communities have plans for improving access to and quality of early education programs, they cannot do it alone. State and federal funding offer invaluable resources for communities to utilize when generating these plans. A larger partnership between local, state, and federal governments will help strengthen progress.”
So please click here to read the full brief. And be sure to share it with your networks.
With enough effort, Massachusetts could turn its workforce crisis into an example of widespread workforce success.