Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pay: A Key Factor in Quality Improvement

The research for developing a system to improve the quality of Early Learning programs often sites a well-prepared, professional workforce, but rarely are the salaries of those who care for our youngest members of society mentioned.  Many people seem to feel that improving teacher performance, education, and training can be done while still offering Early Learning professionals near poverty wages.  Somehow paying a skilled workforce a professional wage does not enter the equation even while many other fields fight to keep wages high in the name of attracting the best and brightest. 

 According to a report by the Government Accountability Office entitled  HSS and Education Are Taking Steps to Improve Workforce Data and Enhance Worker Quality  "average yearly income ranged from $11,500 for a child care worker working in a child's home to $18,000 for a preschool teacher."  The poverty rate for a family of 4 in 2009 was $22,050 (Department of Health and Human Services) which means that many Early Learning providers do not earn enough to support themselves or their families.  This is in spite of the research that shows that the brain will develop more than at any other point in life, and the foundational skills needed to be successful in life are built during this critical point in development. 

There are many reasons for the low pay in Early Education, but the biggest reason it stays low is that few people are talking about it or are willing to address it as an issue related to quality.  Money is tight, particularly in these times,  and the evidence for how quality is improved by how much and what type of education is inconclusive so there is little incentive for policy makers to address this issue.  However, if Early Childhood Care and Education is ever to be a respected and well-paid field that attracts the best than pay is central, and shouldn't the field that lies the foundation for a person's future be encouraged to attract the best and the brightest like any other business?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What We Want for Our Kids

'What we want for our kids' is the phrase that finds its way, in one form or another, into almost every speech politicians make, and this year, like every election year, is no different.  But does our nation really have a vision for what it wants for our children?  On the recommendation of a friend, I am reading The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans DeWaal.  It is an intriguing read for anyone who is interested in social issues and creating a society that supports children and families.

DeWaal takes on assumptions that are perpetuated within our nation's myths and legends about the selfishness of humans, and the ability of humans to succeed entirely independent of society.  These assumptions are reflected in concepts such as 'pulled himself up by his boot straps,'  survival of the fittest, and that greed is good.  These ideas, also, make it one way or another into many political stump speeches, but they do not reflect the reality of young children's lives nor what happens in the average early childhood classroom.

Young children thrive, not when they are told to pull themselves up by their boot straps, but when they have loving, responsive relationships surrounding them.  As DeWaal affirms "The point is that we are mammals, which are animals with obligatory maternal care. . . This bond provides the evolutionary template for all other attachments, including those among adults." (DeWaal, page 11) There are few policies in the United States that support the bond between parents and their children so it is up to Early Childhood professionals to advocate for those policies in the long run, but also for practices within the field that support the relationship between parents and children. 

Practices that support the parent-child bond include daily sharing of information, continuity of care, the teacher and parent knowing one another as people, regular conferences, and flexible child care days and hours are practices that most Early Learning facilities can be implemented with relative ease. But policies, such as job sharing, flexible work schedules, and paid parental leave will be a longer battle.  However, such policies must be implemented if we are to truly promote the welfare of children and families, and should be considered a critical part of any comprehensive Early Childhood system.