THE QUALIFICATIONS OF PENNSYLVANA'S EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS HAVE DECLINED SHARPLY SINCE 1980s SAYS KEYSTONE RESEARCH CENTER

Share with Four-Year College Degree drops from 40% to 27%
Date of Press Release: 
September 15, 2005

Pennsylvania Issue Brief Part of Nationwide Release of Research Conducted by Pennsylvania-based Think Tank

Link to Related KRC Articles on Education and Child Care

Harrisburg – In the 1980s about 40 percent of teaching staff in Pennsylvania's center-based preschool programs outside the public schools had a four-year college degree. Today, according to a new study by the Keystone Research Center, the number is 27 percent.

The study, Losing Ground in Pennsylvania Early Childhood Education, also reports that the share of staff with a high school degree or less has risen from 34% in the mid 1980s to 43% in the 1998-2004 period.  (Teaching staff, also referred to as early childhood educators, include teachers, administrators, assistant teachers, and aides.)

The decline in the educational level of early childhood educators at a time when the overall workforce became more educated is cause for concern according to Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center and an author of the study.

"There is compelling evidence that high-quality early education has a great positive benefit to young children later in school and life," says Herzenberg.

"Because the quality of early education depends in large part on the quality of the teachers who provide it, the data we report today should serve as a warning about the overall health of early childhood education in Pennsylvania."

According to the KRC study one major reason for the decline are the low wages of jobs in early childhood education. The median pay in the industry is about $8 an hour or about $17,000 a year for a full-time worker. Few early education jobs provide health or pension benefits.

"What Pennsylvania needs," says Mark Price, KRC economist and report co-author, "is a comprehensive approach to assuring quality in early childhood education programs. That means phasing in higher standards for staff and raising compensation so that ECE can hold onto more qualified teachers.  The state should also encourage new research that will expand our understanding of the impact of teacher qualifications and alternative training approaches."

Price notes that Pennsylvania has taken positive steps with the existing TEACH program that provides scholarships for education and training of early childhood educators, and the Keystone STARS program that offers incentives to centers to improve program quality.  These programs, however, are not operated at the scale necessary to reverse the fall in staff qualifications documented in Losing Ground.

Among the KRC study's other main findings:

By the year 2000, less than a third of center-based early childhood educators had a college degree in seven of eight metropolitan areas.  In Reading, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Allentown and York less than a quarter of center-based early childhood educators had a college degree. 

Education levels are even lower in Pennsylvania's home-based ECE.  In Pennsylvania home-based ECE, only 14 percent of educators have a college degree and half have a high school degree or less. 

The report on the early childhood education workforce in Pennsylvania is one of seven state-level studies released today along with a longer national study.  All of the reports were written by KRC staff and released by KRC, the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, and the Foundation for Child Development.  The Foundation for Child Development provided funds for the national project.  The national and state reports fill a vacuum that had existed in knowledge of the ECE workforce over time.  

The national study and state-level studies for California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are available from the KRC-sponsored http://keystoneresearch.org/issues-guides/early-childhood-workforce, the Economic Policy Institute (www.epinet.org) or the Foundation for Child Development (www.fcd-us.org).

The Keystone Research Center's research on the Pennsylvania early childhood education workforce was funded by grants from the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation.

The Keystone Research Center is a non-partisan progressive research organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and a leading source of independent analysis of Pennsylvania's economy and public policy. Most KRC reports are online at www.keystoneresearch.org.