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Will a college degree requirement lead to better, more respected preschool teachers?


November 9, 2017
Lia Kvatum
The Washington Post

Before my own daughter began preschool, I would have looked at this activity and seen nothing but play cooking. I had no idea what preschool might mean for her developmentally and had little appreciation for the educational techniques that went into her day-to-day experiences. Once I saw how those experiences were shaping her, I realized what a crucial job preschool teachers perform, and how thankless it is. They work long hours to plan developmentally appropriate lessons and then execute those plans with care and patience. And they do so for disturbingly little pay.

As it turns out, these challenges are part of the reason that American early-childhood education is in crisis. “Our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable,” states a 2016 report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, “posing multiple obstacles to teachers’ efforts to nurture children’s optimal development and learning, as well as risks to their own well-being.”

Here are just some of the problems: Demand for early-childhood programs outstrips supply. With their heavy staffing requirements and the cost of finding, outfitting and maintaining their facilities, the programs are expensive to run, which means fees are high. Meanwhile, tax credits for early-childhood programs are meager. On average, a family may earn only $35,000 or less to qualify for federal subsidies. Employees are not well-compensated: Median income for a preschool teacher in the United States is roughly $28,000 per year; median income for a child-care worker nationwide is $20,000. And perhaps most critically, many child-care programs don’t provide an environment that ensures the most effective learning. “It’s not that these programs are bad,” says Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. “The children are safe, and the teachers care about them. But the programs are anemic; there’s not a lot going on. It’s a real missed opportunity.”