Job Turnover in Early Education

The turnover rate among early education program staff in the U.S. is 30%.  High turnover rates can impact program quality and affect children. Studies show that frequent turnover among early educators prevents children from developing secure attachments with their teachers and can negatively impact children’s social and emotional skills as well as their language development. It also hinders the formation of healthy relationships between parents and their children’s teachers.

So, why do teachers leave the field so early and so often? In a word, money!  Low wages are cited as the number one reason why teachers leave their jobs.  Early educators are among the most poorly paid professionals in the nation.  Many share similar educational backgrounds as public school teachers but earn roughly half to one third of a public school teacher’s salary.   Not surprisingly, the more educated and qualified they are, the more likely they are to leave.  Compensation in this profession is often lower than parking lot attendants, cooks and cashiers.  Lack of health care and retirement benefits are also factors in the high rate of turnover. Thankfully, many who choose a career in early education see their work as a calling and feel personally rewarded by what they do outside of their paychecks.

Over the years, several programs have been developed to combat the issue of early education teacher turnover and help to supplement teacher pay. Recently, Child Trends did a review of several programs designed to decrease teacher turnover.  You can read the full article here.  A summary of what they learned included:

  • Most programs weight teacher qualifications more heavily than financial needs when considering who would be eligible. Only one program reviewed awarded larger bonuses to the providers with the lowest wages, despite the fact that compensation is overwhelmingly cited as the main issue in teachers’ decisions to leave the field.
  • Most programs set a minimum level of education for eligibility. The goal of these programs is to retain the most “highly qualified” individuals.  One concern to this approach is that there is weak evidence to prove that degrees produce more quality teaching and these requirements may disproportionately disqualify many great teachers from accessing the programs.
  • Many programs require providers to participate in state career lattice systems. These systems are a useful source of information about the ECE workforce and can help states understand how bonuses impact provider outcomes over time.
  • Most programs allow providers to receive bonuses annually, however, some only allow a bonus every other year to avoid the bonus becoming a reliable source of income for the provider.
  • Most programs do not restrict recipients’ use of funds. Some require funds to be used on tuition or classroom materials, which may not lead to the overall goal of improving compensation and retaining employees.

The problem of turnover is complicated and more prevalent in certain regions, states and districts than others.  Areas that serve students of color and those from low-income families have the highest teacher turnover rates.  The problem is complex and the need for policy action is imperative.  To ensure that our children have optimal early education experiences, we have to develop long-term solutions to retain effective teachers.  Solutions that incentivize great teachers to stay in the field should include increased compensation, professional development, coaching, mentorship and support from school administrators and parents.  Ignoring this issue or implementing short-term “band-aid” solutions only guarantees that we will continue to see critical shortages of early education teachers in the communities where they are most needed.  Virginia needs to take thoughtful action NOW to make early education a desirable and sustainable profession for teachers.

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