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Study finds "two-tier" system in state-funded prekindergartens: disparity in education, pay, stability
07 October 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Within state-funded prekindergarten systems, teachers in publicly-operated settings are better educated, better paid and enjoy more job stability than their counterparts in privately-operated settings, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Center for the Child Care Workforce in Washington, D.C.

"Inside the Classroom: A Study of Staffing and Stability in State-Funded Prekindergarten Programs" compares documented staff qualifications, stability, turnover and compensation in state-funded prekindergarten programs in California, Georgia, (Chicago) Illinois, New York and Texas. (In California, state-funded prekindergartens are operated through the California State Pre-School Program.).

The substantial differences found in qualifications and compensation of prekindergarten teachers reflect clear evidence, the report says, of the development of "a two-tier system of prekindergarten education" in the four states housing both publicly- and privately-operated programs. (All Texas prekindergartens are publicly-operated.)

Prekindergartens that are privately-operated appear to serve as training and apprenticeship programs to prepare teachers for eventual employment in higher-paying, publicly-operated programs, the study's authors say.

"States are expanding prekindergarten systems to meet increasing demands, but they won't be able to successfully prepare children to succeed in school without well-qualified, well-paid, stable teachers," says Marci P. Young, executive director of the Center for the Child Care Workforce. "Regardless of setting, states have a responsibility to make sure programs attract and keep the teachers who can help children learn."

Although all five states have educational requirements for prekindergarten teachers, those requirements vary widely. For example, Georgia requires prekindergarten teachers to finish a one-year certificate program, while California requires 20 units less than what is needed for a two-year associate degree. California also allows a waiver while prekindergarten staff complete their education.

In Chicago, Texas and New York, prekindergarten teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree and prekindergarten credentials. In New York, teachers also are required to have a master's degree by the time they finish five years of teaching. Despite these requirements, almost all teachers - whether in the public or private sectors - still lag well behind K-12 public school teachers in the compensation they earn.

"In many state-funded pre-K programs, high turnover fueled by low wages seriously jeopardizes their capacity to attract teachers with higher qualifications," says senior researcher Marcy Whitebook of UC Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations. "In California, for example, turnover among pre-K teachers earning close to K-12 teacher salaries is 4 percent, whereas those making average wages typical of child care teachers is 28 percent. This is a problem because we know that teachers' compensation and consistency make a huge difference in children's ability to learn."

Questions of how to recruit, train and retrain workers needed for effective prekindergarten education has taken on increasing significance as prekindergarten enrollment in the United States steadily climbs. From 1991 to 1999, enrollment increased from 250,000 to 750,000 children. But meanwhile, the nation's overall child care and early education system, of which prekindergarten is a part, suffers a major staffing crisis, with annual turnover rates reaching 30 percent.

"This study shows that, despite the best of intentions, many programs have replicated problems that exist in the early childhood field," says Helen Blank, director of child care at the Children's Defense Fund. "While we want to expand universal prekindergarten, it is essential that we address the need for a sufficiently skilled, stable and well-compensated workforce in these programs."

Most businesses - and young children - would suffer from such a high turnover rate. A bond with a consistent teacher has long been known to help with children's learning and well-being.

To conduct the study, researchers interviewed prekindergarten site administrators in sample prekindergartens in all five states in 2001 and 2002. They also convened focus groups and conducted more in-depth interviews with directors, teaching staff and state-level administrators in Georgia and Chicago.

The full report can be downloaded in PDF format from the Center for the Child Care Workforce Web site at