Preschool Matters Today

Beyond “Thanks and Recognition”: Elevating Early Childhood Educators


April 18, 2019
Lauren Hogan and Steven Barnett, Ph.D.

Every year, NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child and NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook bring attention to early childhood education, celebrating what we do, and sharing research on how far we have to go. This year, both organizations included a focus on early childhood education professionals, with NIEER targeting data-collecting and sharing about pre-K teachers, and NAEYC working with partners to collect over 85 proclamations, across 23 states and the island of Puerto Rico, that emphasized the need to do more to support early childhood educators working with children birth through age 8, and their complex, valuable, and demanding work.

Let’s start with NIEER, and today’s release of the State of Preschool 2018 yearbook, which includes a special section highlighting state policies affecting pre-K teachers. Despite research confirming that the person in the classroom is the most important component of classroom quality, as Steve Barnett notes: “pre-K teachers get short-changed, literally and figuratively.”

Here’s the deal:

  •  Most states require pre-K teachers to have similar qualifications as K-3 teachers but many fail to require equal pay or to include pre-K teachers in collective bargaining agreements (even if the pre-K teacher is in the same public school building as the K-3 teachers).
  •  Public school preschool teachers with a bachelor’s degree make less than their K-3 peers on average, and similarly qualified preschool teachers in private programs earn even less. Indeed, few states have any parity policies for state pre-K teachers working in nonprofit or community centers.
  •  Salary disparities are compounded by the lack of fringe benefit policies for preschool teachers. Almost half of states with state-funded preschool have no policies ensuring equal retirement, health care or paid time off between preschool and K-3 teachers. (Although they could: two states—Tennessee and Minnesota—include their private preschool teachers in policies related to equal retirement, health care and paid time off).
  •  Only 16 states have policies requiring public pre-K teachers to get the same amount of paid time for planning, meetings and reporting as K-3 teachers; and only 7 provide that for pre-K teachers outside the public schools.

State preschool programs are failing to support pre-K teachers equally with K-3 teachers, especially those teaching in classrooms outside public school buildings—and, as we know, the situation is far worse for educators working in settings serving infants and toddlers.

These disparities matter to teachers—and the children in their classrooms. Given the outcomes we expect them to produce, however, early childhood educators working with children birth through age 8 need and deserve much more.

So what are we going to do about it?

#WOYC19 Proclamations

One thing NAEYC did this year was focus on a tool we use every year—but in a new way! We’ve always had proclamations “thanking and recognizing” early childhood educators. But since proclamations can be used to educate the public, bring attention to our issues, and provide an effective advocacy tool for the future, this year NAEYC’s affiliate leaders and partners wanted to take their WOYC celebrations a little further! Check out the toolkit they used to go beyond thanks and recognition, and read the quotes from some Affiliate leaders below to see what they did and how they are using these proclamations to build relationships and momentum!

“I got to talk about the 25 proclamations we were able to secure throughout Idaho as a guest state senator on the Senate floor! We were thrilled to get such a great response around securing proclamations and are excited to keep building on this momentum to build coalitions across Idaho and expand our advocacy efforts.” –Beth Oppenheimer, Idaho AEYC

“The proclamations NYAEYC was able to secure from Mayor Kathy Sheehan in Albany, NY and Mayor Byron Brownhave in Buffalo, NY helped us establish key relationships and map out a plan for the future.” – Katie Albitz, New York AEYC

“We requested a proclamation from Governor Mike DeWine in partnership with other advocacy organizations across the state. Receiving the proclamation allowed us to share it in coalition members’ newsletters and on social media sites, multiplying its impact by giving the cause a much broader reach.” –Kimberly Tice, Ohio AEYC

“We used the momentum of getting a proclamation signed by Governor Kate Brown to inspire the more than 140 early childhood advocates who joined us at the state capital and met with 63 legislators!” – Sara Stearns, Oregon AEYC

“We were able to read proclamations from Governor McMaster and Greenville Mayor Knox White at our Week of the Young Child conference, which was designed to help teachers and providers participate in the Week of the Young Child. We had 90 participants and most had never done WOYC activities before. They went back to their programs with ideas, handouts, and activities to help them engage in events this year.” –Meredith Burton, South Carolina AEYC

“Our work to facilitate a sense of belonging and professional support for our field takes on a whole new urgency due to preschool promise programs in Cincinnati and Dayton. With Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley both signing proclamations, we see many opportunities to involve local for-profit and nonprofit organizations, government officials, and community services, along with local schools and programs, to bring more perspectives on how we can best engage locally for quality early childhood education.” –Greg Harris, Southwest Ohio AEYC

“We received a Gubernatorial Proclamation from Governor Gina Raimondo. Since she is in the middle of a Universal Pre-K tour and we are in the middle of our legislative session, we will be using this momentum to continue to advocate!” –Lisa A. Hildebrand, Rhode Island AEYC

“The Austin Chapter of TXAEYC was honored to have a proclamation for the WOYC signed by Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin. As part of their continued advocacy work, they will be presenting a screening of No Small Matter for City of Austin employees on May 2nd followed by a panel discussion that will highlight ways in which city departments can find innovative solutions to increasing the affordability of high-quality early childhood education in our community.” –Kim Kofron, Texas AEYC

As one leader said, “It can be very difficult to change the perception of early childhood education and educators, but I feel like we are slowly making progress in acknowledging the invaluable work of early childhood educators and the need for high quality programs and what those look like.” It takes research, leadership, advocacy – and you.

So, make sure you read NIEER’s new yearbook; join Power to the Profession; engage your NAEYC Affiliate; and stay informed by signing up to receive NAEYC’s America for Early Ed newsletters and NIEER’s weekly updates.

Lauren Hogan is Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at NAEYC.

Steven Barnett, Ph.D. is Founding Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. His research includes studies of the economics of early care and education including costs and benefits, the long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s learning and development, and the distribution of educational opportunities.