Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children


Every day in Massachusetts, 75,000 early childhood educators go to work caring for more than 400,000 young children. Yet, these educators face increasing demands inside and outside of the classroom, with low pay and high economic insecurity contributing to a workforce shortage.

Next year, to study these challenges, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will conduct a sweeping survey of the early education workforce.

This month, to prepare for the survey, researchers from UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (IEELI) have released a preliminary, Phase One report, “The Massachusetts Early Care and Education Workforce Study: Final Report Relevant to Survey Design.”

This report looks at “the strengths, challenges, and needs of the workforce,” drawing on the contributions of more than 70 experts, including “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,” UMass Boston explains in a press release.

The economic challenges are stubbornly persistent. There is “a long history of low pay and inadequate benefits,” the press release says.

“There is,” the report adds, “a profound disconnect between the true cost of quality care and what the state and/or parents pay for that care. The level of subsidy provided by the state does not cover the cost of care per child. This has been a problem for many years in terms of the level of subsidy for publicly supported child care.”

“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,” Susan Crandall said. She is a member of the research team and the director of UMass Boston’s Center for Social Policy. “The result is crushing financial stress for many ECE workers, hindering their advancement.”

As the report’s executive summary notes, there are three overarching findings:

• early educators face increasing demands and complexity in their work, such as challenging child behaviors and working with families who are homeless

• there is “a significant shortage of qualified early childhood educators and program directors and, as result, some centers and programs are not operating at full capacity,” and

• because of their low pay, early educators struggle to pay bills and can find that their own and their families’ quality of life is hurt

To address these challenges, Massachusetts policymakers needs to make thoughtful, innovative reforms.

“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.”

Building a better system of early education is essential for today’s children and for the future of the state.

“The work of early educators sets a social and educational foundation for the children of the Commonwealth that will have lifelong consequences,” research team member Ann Bookman explains. She is the director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, where Christa Kelleher, another research team member, is the research and policy director.

“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.”

The next step is Phase Two. The research team will use the input from Phase One to design a workforce survey.

“We are aware of the need to administer the survey in ways that ensure a robust response rate and that the ECE workforce – in all its diversity – is adequately represented in the survey sample,” the report concludes. Researchers plan to work with the Department of Early Education and Care “to move this survey forward and lay the basis for new policy-relevant data and analysis on the ECE workforce.”