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The Case for Better Compensation of Early Educators

Key Takeaways

  • Early educators help ensure children’s school readiness and future academic success, making them invaluable contributors to society. 
  • Studies consistently show quality early childhood programs lead to long-term cost savings for society.
  • We all have a role to play in advocating for a high-quality, well-compensated workforce.

Why the ECE Workforce Matters

Research shows quality early childhood education has long-lasting positive effects on children's cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Early educators create nurturing environments, foster curiosity, promote language and communication skills, facilitate social interactions and introduce foundational academic concepts during this critical time of brain development. Their work ensures children’s school readiness and future academic success, making them invaluable contributors to society. 

Early childhood educators work in dynamic and demanding environments, managing a diverse range of children with varying needs and abilities. They must be attentive, patient and responsive to individual differences while maintaining a safe and engaging learning environment. They collaborate with parents, administrators and other professionals to support children’s holistic development. It’s a role that requires immense dedication and skill — and it’s time their compensation reflects that.

Join thousands of early childhood professionals to move the field forward at our conference.

What the Data Says

High quality early childhood programs can yield a $4 – $9 dollar return per $1 invested.

Studies consistently show quality early childhood programs result in reduced rates of grade repetition, special education, and juvenile delinquency, leading to long-term cost savings for society. Furthermore, children who receive quality early education are more likely to graduate high school, pursue higher education, and secure higher-paying jobs in the future. By providing better pay and compensation to early childhood educators, we promote the delivery of high-quality programs, maximizing these long-term economic benefits. 

The skills and abilities employers are looking for — focus, self-discipline, motivation and collaboration — all start to take root in the first five years of life.

The early childhood education workforce is paid so little that nearly half live in families that depend on public assistance.

Bar chart showing child care salary compared to other education professions

Salaries for early childhood educators are often lower compared to other professions requiring similar levels of education and responsibility. Furthermore, African American women educating children ages 0–5 earn an average of $4,395 less per year than their white counterparts. 

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The main reason that child care is so expensive has to do with just how many people you need in a classroom.

Staff turnover is as high as 20%.

RAPID Survey caregiver data as reported in the State of Babies Yearbook: 2023 show that low wages and burnout are the two major challenges to staff retention. When staff turnover is high, young children bear the brunt. The relationships and connections they have with their teachers are suddenly disrupted, which can adversely affect learning outcomes. 

The job is physically and mentally demanding.

Researchers from the Happy Teacher Project found that many early childhood teachers experience stress and demonstrate lack of well-being at rates and levels that threaten the quality and sustainability of the workforce. Like most complex problems, solutions depend on multiple levels–supports at the individual, program, and policy and system levels.

Mental health and physical health issues of early childhood educators may result, in part, from working with children from challenging home environments—a concerning suggestion given that they are expected to provide a safe and positive environment for children and to serve as a buffer for children who are experiencing poverty and its associated challenges.

Because we do not have a designated break and cannot go to the bathroom, I always have to hold. We cannot get out of (teacher–child) ratio and often have staff shortage to cover me even for the bathroom break. So, I don’t drink water and often feel dehydrated.

What We Can Do

Tell Congress to invest in quality, affordable child care.

Educators can’t earn less and families can’t pay more. It’s time for a national solution. Use our simple tool to join Think Babies advocates from across the country and send a message to Congress.

Learn about the Unifying Framework for the ECE profession.

As part of the Power to the Profession National Task Force, we joined top organizations to create the Unifying Framework which defines a pathway to create one birth through age 8 ECE workforce that is fairly and equitably compensated. 

The Unifying Framework calls for the establishment of a permanent governing body, comprised of the stakeholders in the ECE profession, to oversee the implementation of it and serve as a unified voice for the profession. In 2021, the Commission on Professional Excellence in Early Childhood Education (ECE Commission) launched to serve in this role.

Its primary recommendations include:

  • Creating a structure in which the cacophony of labels and roles is reduced to three distinct and meaningful designations (Early Childhood Educator I, II, and III) and all early childhood educators hold a license to practice.
  • Establishing a primary set of career pathways, aligned to the designations of the profession.
  • Increasing state and federal investments in ECE to achieve fair compensation for the profession.
  • Creating a broader, more coherent system, as other professions have done—a supportive infrastructure with shared responsibility.

Support educators in advancing their careers.

Our mission is to ensure all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. We accomplish this goal by working with all those who can positively influence their lives. Our suite of products, events and trainings bring the latest research, news and trends to the early childhood workforce to help enhance their work and grow their careers. 

Get updates on the latest trends, trainings and events for the early childhood workforce. 

A graphic promoting the ZERO TO THREE Conference for early childhood professionals.
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Early Childhood Teachers’ Well-Being: What We Know and Why We Should Care
Kyong-Ah Kwon and Diane M. Horm, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa Chris Amirault, Tulsa Educare MacArthur, Tulsa, Oklahoma Abstract Researchers from the Happy Teacher Project found that many early childhood teachers experience stress and demonstrate lack of well-being at rates and levels that threaten the quality and sustainability of the workforce. Further, working with children exposed to trauma adds significant emotional and […]