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New study by UC Berkeley, Washington, D.C., researchers confirms loss of child care center workers due to low pay, turnover
29 April 2001

Media Relations

Washington, D.C. - Child care centers, and the child care industry as a whole, are losing well-educated teaching staff and administrators at an alarming rate and hiring replacement teachers with less training and education, according to a study to be released today, Sunday, April 29, by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for the Child Care Workforce.

"Then and Now: Changes in Child Care Staffing, 1994-2000," is the first longitudinal study based on observations of quality in the same child care centers at three points in time -1994, 1996 and 2000 - and confirms previous concerns about the instability of the child care workforce and its impact on the quality of center-based child care available to young children.

Researchers have consistently found that the cornerstone of child care promoting healthy development is the presence of sensitive, consistent, well-trained and well-compensated caregivers.

According to the study, the teaching and administrative workforce is alarmingly unstable. Seventy-five percent of all teaching staff employed in the centers studied in 1996, and 40 percent of the directors, were no longer on the job when centers were revisited in 2000. Teaching staff and directors reported that high turnover among their colleagues negatively affected their ability to do their jobs and, for some, contributed to their decision to leave. Highly-skilled teachers and directors who left their jobs earned significantly less those who remained.

All the more troubling, the study findings come from a sample of higher-than-average quality child care centers, including many programs accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

"The critical shortage of elementary and secondary school teachers pervades the national consciousness, while in contrast, the "other teacher shortage" - an insufficient pool of workers to care for and educate young children prior to kindergarten - seldom registers in the public awareness," said Marcy Whitebook, PhD, the study's director and a senior researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations. The release of these data comes at an opportune moment, she said, as the White House and Congress prepare legislative proposals to address the national crisis in education. The data underscore the desperate need for proposals to attract and retain qualified teachers for children in the early years, which are acknowledged to shape children's later social and intellectual growth.

"The question of who will teach our children is as pressing at the preschool level, if not more so, than for older grades," said Whitebook. "Without a skilled and stable workforce, efforts to provide growth-enhancing experiences for children are severely constrained. Compensation for those who care for young children must be increased dramatically and quickly."

The study, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, gathered information on staffing and quality from a sample of child care centers serving middle- and low-income children in three Northern California communities over a six year period.

Key Findings

* Job Turnover: Only 24 percent of teaching staff employed in 1996 were still on the job at the centers in 2000. Year-to-year turnover (30 percent between 1999-2000) and the inability of centers to replace staff also contributed to instability. Over half the centers reporting turnover in the last year (56 percent) had not succeeded at replacing all the teaching staff they had lost. In addition, two-thirds of centers that lost a director between 1996 and 2000 reported having two or more directors in the same time period.

* Occupational Turnover: When teaching staff and administrators leave their jobs, only half continue to work in child care. Fifty-one percent of teaching staff and 39 percent of directors who had left their positions were working in child care-related agencies when contacted in 2000. Those working in non-child care-related jobs earned, on average, $4 per hour, or $8,000 per year, more than those who accepted new child care jobs.

* Wages: Wages for the majority of teaching staff positions, when adjusted for inflation, have decreased six percent for teachers and two percent for assistants. The small number of teaching staff who remained on the job between 1996 and 2000 experienced only a two percent wage increase after adjusting for changes in the cost of living. Between 1992 and 1997, average wages for K-12 teachers in California increased by nine percent. On average, child care teachers earned $13,52 an hour for a 12-months-a-year, full-time equivalent salary of $24,606.

* Changing Characteristics of Child Care Teachers: New teaching staff as a whole were significantly less well-educated than those they replaced. Nearly half of those who left had completed a bachelor's degree, compared to only one-third of new teachers. Teaching staff who left the program were no less educated than were those remained at the centers, but earned significantly lower wages.

* Retaining Skilled Staff: Centers that pay higher wages are better able to retain qualified teachers and directors. Highly-trained teachers who stayed on the jobs earned higher wages, approximately $3 an hour more, and worked with a higher percentage of well-trained teaching staff who also remained on the job than did highly-trained teachers who left. Even those child care teachers at the highest level of pay and experience earned at least $10,000 less per year that the average K-12 California teacher with equivalent education and $6,000 less than starting K-12 teachers.

* Quality: The presence of a greater proportion of highly-trained teaching staff in 2000 was the strongest predictor of whether a center sustained quality improvements over a four-year period. Wages were also a significant predictor. Thirty-two percent of the observed programs in the study were rated high in quality in both 1996 and 2000, and most were accredited by the NAEYC. However, only those NAEYC-accredited programs that paid higher than average salaries were able to attract highly-skilled staff and thus sustain quality over time.

Whitebook said she and the study's other authors urge policy makers to generate and support proposals that close the economic and status gap between teachers, based on the age of the children they teach. Several creative initiatives are under consideration in the communities studied as well as throughout the nation, and these should be supported, the authors said. Further, they call for an expansion of the focus of K-12 education reform, and the resources dedicated to it, to include the preschool years.

"Services for young children, like those for elementary, secondary and college students, must be seen as a public good, rather than a service underwritten primarily by families," said Whitebook. "Even middle-class families cannot afford the cost of elementary, secondary or college education without public support. These findings suggest the same is true for preschool education. "

The release of the study also coincides with the 10th annual Worthy Wage Day, Tuesday, May 1, a nationwide day of action and education on child care quality, affordability and staffing issues by child care workers, parents and other advocates.