Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “brains are built not born.”
The most rapid period of development in human life occurs from birth to age eight. What happens in these first eight years sets the foundation for all of the years that follow. In addition to the positive impact that early childhood education can have on an individual, there are also tremendous community and economic implications for these types of investments. Early childhood education increases the number of children that enter Kindergarten school-ready, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the school system. Further, early childhood education provides more than 118,000 jobs to North Carolinians, through direct and indirect service, accounting for more than $3.5 billion in economic productivity in the state.1
Recently, North Carolina leaders have taken action to focus on child development through initiatives to increase reading achievement, forming partnerships between government and nonprofit agencies and legislators and the business community to strengthen the state's focus on these challenges. Still, there is more work to be done. To get there, we need state and local policies and practices aligned around and actively advancing a common vision. This can best be achieved through an office dedicated to programs that build a strong foundation for learning and life success.
Increase pay to early childhood teachers with 2- and 4-year degrees.
Inadequate salaries and licensing requirements are holding back the potential effectiveness of our early childhood education teachers. Studies show a link between teacher education and classroom quality.2,3 The state should commit to improving the early childhood workforce by raising standards and increasing pay.
Early childhood teachers need to be adequately prepared and receive ongoing professional development to best support children’s development. Current licensing standards for child care centers, even at the 5-star level, do not require all lead teachers to have even a two-year degree in early childhood education.
Pay for early education professionals is not competitive, even compared to relatively-low teaching salaries in the public schools. Early education teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn on average less than $30,000 for 12 months, while teachers in public school make at least $35,000 for 10 months. In addition, 39% of early education teachers receive some type of public assistance.4 Funding for salary supplements through the Child Care Wage$ program has been cut in half over the last five years.
If we are going to demand more from our early education teachers, then we must help the small business owners that are running our child care centers. The state should expand the current WAGE$ salary supplement program to cover all counties and to increase salary supplements for early childhood teachers with 2 or 4-year degrees. Salary supplements would be provided to employers who are meeting goals and criteria and early childhood providers who are in good standing. These efforts would increase take home pay and incentivize existing early childhood educators to get more education and training.
10-Year plan to increase early childhood licensing standards.
Step one, by 2020, all 4 and 5 star programs must have a lead teacher with at least a two-year degree in early childhood education. No child care subsidies or NC Pre-K dollars should be spent in programs with less than 4 stars.
Step two, by 2025 all 5 star programs must have a lead teacher in every classroom with a four-year degree in early childhood education and all 4-star programs must have at least 50% of the lead teachers with a four-year degree. No child care subsidy or NC Pre-K dollars should be spent in programs with less than 5 stars.
Require state community colleges and the UNC System campuses to agree to a standardized 2+2 early childhood degree program.
Such an arrangement would allow community college students who earn an accredited two-year degree in early childhood education to have their degree fully articulated into the four-year degree program at UNC campuses that offer early childhood education. This plan would increase the number of degree-holding teachers to match the requirements of the 10-year plan.
1 O'Donnell, Kelly. (2015) The Economic Impact of Early Care and Education in North Carolina. Institute for Child Success.
2 LaRue Allen and Bridget B. Kelly. (2015) Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8.
3 Jim Minervino. (September 2014). Lessons from Research and the Classroom. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
4 Child Care Services Association. (December 2015). Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina: 2015 Workforce Study.