January 9, 2018

New York Times Releases Detailed Examination on Preschool Wage and Achievement Gaps

In a recently released article, “Why Are Our Most Important Teachers Paid the Least?“, the New York Times examines and details the effects and impacts of preschool teachers living on the edges of financial ruin. It studies several preschool classrooms, noting the differences in social and emotional learning and vocabulary differences, before going on to inspect the issues facing those in the District of Columbia who now must earn an associate degree by 2020 in order to teach preschool.

“Part of the problem is that the benefits of a preschool education tend to manifest unevenly. Developmental gains made by the start of kindergarten can be enough to close racial achievement gaps, but those gains often evaporate by third or fourth grade, a phenomenon that education researchers call the fade-out effect. And so far, the longer-term rebounds found in Perry and Abecedarian — in which children who attend good preschools fare better in adulthood than their peers who attend no such program — have been difficult to parse or replicate. In 2017, a group of prominent early-education researchers published a consensus statement declaring that preschool classrooms were a “black box” and that much more research was needed before anyone could say with certainty which ingredients were essential to improving long-term developmental trajectories.

‘Teaching preschoolers is every bit as complicated and important as teaching any of the K-12 grades, if not more so. But we still treat preschool teachers like babysitters.’

Amid that uncertainty, though, at least two things seem clear: Children in low-income and minority neighborhoods stand to gain (or lose) the most from whatever preschool system we ultimately establish. And the one-on-one exchanges between students and teachers — what developmental psychologists call “process quality” — may well be the key to success or failure. In other words, if preschool classrooms really are crackling with the kind of raw power that can change the course of a life, that power most likely resides in the ability of teachers like Kelly to connect with students like the little blond boy.

But if teachers are crucial to high-quality preschool, they are also its most neglected component. Even as investment in early-childhood education soars, teachers like Kelly continue to earn as little as $28,500 a year on average, a valuation that puts them on par with file clerks and switchboard operators, but well below K-12 teachers, who, according to the most recent national survey, earn roughly $53,100 a year. According to a recent briefing from the Economic Policy Institute, a majority of preschool teachers are low-income women of color with no more than a high-school diploma. Only 15 percent of them receive employer-sponsored health insurance, and depending on which state they are in, nearly half belong to families that rely on public assistance. “Teaching preschoolers is every bit as complicated and important as teaching any of the K-12 grades, if not more so,” says Marcy Whitebook, a director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. “But we still treat preschool teachers like babysitters. We want them to ameliorate poverty even as they live in it themselves.”  (Via the New York Times)