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Preschool teachers should earn like they matter


January 29, 2015
Economics and FinanceWorkforce
Laura Bornfreund
The Atlantic

Research shows that early-childhood educators are as valuable as those in K-12 classrooms. So why are they paid far less?

Terms such as “babysitter,” “caregiver,” or “daycare provider” are too often the words that pop into people’s heads when they think of an adult who teaches very young children. And their pay is too often at the bottom of the income ladder, with salaries near $10 per hour. In fact, many adults working in child-care centers and other early-childhood programs make about $1 more than fast-food cooks and less than animal caretakers, according to a recent report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.

This undervaluing of work is not just the case for infant and toddler teachers and assistants. Pre-k teachers, for instance, earn 40 percent less than kindergarten teachers, even though the demands of the job—and the education and training required—can be nearly identical. Research shows that these teachers matter a lot. The adults working in early-childhood programs set the foundation for future learning, developing essential knowledge in their young students as well as the skills, habits, and mindsets children need to succeed later in school and flourish in life. And the quality of interactions between teachers and children is especially important when it comes to sustaining the gains children make in pre-k programs.