“Early childhood education is not a minimum wage job,” emphasized Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), at the organization’s annual conference in November. The vast majority of Americans agree. According to a recent poll commissioned by NAEYC, nearly 90 percent of voters viewed teaching young children as very important work, following close behind firefighters and nurses.
The organization pulled together a bipartisan research team to conduct a nationally representative poll of voters, an online survey of educators, in-depth interviews with educators, and two educator focus groups in Philadelphia and Denver. This work is part of NAEYC’s effort to define and elevate the early childhood education profession.
Overall, the poll results reveal that early childhood educators have a very positive image in society and voters understand the importance of the work that they do. More than 60 percent of voters recognized that ages birth to five-years-old were the most important time in child development.
Voters also believed that increased access to early education could have broad benefits for society in the short-term and the long-term. More than three-quarters of voters thought that local crime and incarceration rates would be reduced over the long-term as a result of early education. They also thought that children would have a smoother transition to kindergarten if they were enrolled in a pre-K program.
In addition to gauging public perception, the poll also sought to help define the profession by asking the public what skills or standards were important for early education program quality. More than 80 percent of voters believed that teachers who are well-compensated and hold degrees in child development or early childhood education were important to program quality. Voters also thought several other attributes were important for program quality such as compassionate teachers and program emphasis on language and literacy, math and problem solving, and social-emotional development.
Something that voters and early educators agreed on was compensation. More than half of early childhood educators said the lack of sufficient pay and benefits is a major obstacle to becoming a part of the field; over 60 percent of voters believed that early educators are being paid too little. As my colleague, Aaron Loewenberg discussed in a previous blog post, early educators are severely under-paid for the skill-set that they need to provide. Many passionate and effective early education teachers cannot afford to continue in the field. More than 80 percent of voters supported raising the wages of early educators who have obtained a college degree specializing in the education of young children.
Educators also weighed in on educational requirements. Eighty-three percent of early educators believed that current and future educators should meet a baseline set of qualifications in order to receive higher salary and benefits, but were split on what those qualification requirements should be. When asked if they believed that lead teachers should have a bachelor’s degree in child development and assistant teachers or paraprofessionals should have an associate’s degree with some course credits in child development, the field was divided. About half of educators agreed with the new standards and 45 percent did not. The standardization and elevation of educators’ qualifications remains a contentious issue in the field. The Institute of Medicine’s Transforming the Workforce report recommends that lead teachers should have a bachelor’s degree with a specialization in early childhood education, but the report concedes that this requirement would need to be implemented incrementally over several years.
These findings from NAEYC add to the findings of similar polls that likely voters recognize the importance of investing in early childhood education. As the election season begins to ramp up, we will be watching to see whether and how results like these impact state and federal candidate talking points.