A Workforce Data Deficit Hinders Improved Preparation, Support, and Compensation of Early Childhood Educators

ECE Workforce Data Are Critical

The absence of good data allows anecdote — and sometimes bias — to drive policy decisions. Without quality comprehensive data, it’s impossible to answer key policy questions, much less develop estimates of the level of public funding needed to recruit and retain a qualified ECE workforce. 

Data Spotlight

Can you answer these example questions about early educators in your community?

Are current initiatives in your state or community leading to a skilled and stable early childhood workforce?

  • What percentage of the workforce has participated in scholarship initiatives?
  • How do scholarship recipients differ from those who have not received a scholarship, and how can they better be supported to access higher education?

Do the neediest children in your state have access to qualified staff?

  • What percentage of early educators already hold an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or higher? How does this vary by setting, geographical region, and socioeconomic demographics of families attending programs?

Are there disparities in early educator access to higher education, compensation, and/or workplace supports by staff characteristics (e.g. race/ethnicity), age of children taught, or type of setting?

  • What is the median wage of early educators by job role and qualification level? For teachers with a bachelor’s degree or higher, what is the difference in wages/salaries compared to kindergarten teachers?
  • What percentage of early educators have paid non-child contact time for planning and professional development?

Nationwide, leaders lack answers to critical questions about educators who work with young children. Questions like: Who constitutes the early childhood workforce in the United States and in each of the 50 states? What are their current education and compensation levels? What opportunities do they have for professional development? What types of professional development are needed? Which educators receive crucial supports like paid time for planning and reflection to improve their practice in the classroom?

Policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders are routinely unable to answer these basic questions because state data about the early childhood workforce are limited. What data are available are often siloed in different state and local databases, making information difficult to access. 

Gaps Persist Even With Current Efforts to Collect and Integrate ECE Workforce Data 

Efforts to improve state-level ECE workforce data have increased over time, yet much remains to be done to improve the quality of the data collected.

  • The United States lacks a national data source that tracks the ECE workforce over time. There is no comprehensive, longitudinal data source for tracking the early childhood workforce in its entirety across the United States on par with data collected on the K-12 teaching workforce. In response to the deficiencies of most national data sources, the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) was developed to provide a more detailed picture of the ECE workforce. Yet, even this data source has limitations; for example, it cannot provide publicly available data for all 50 states.
  • Program-specific data do not connect with other data sources. States often collect workforce data in administrative records for specific programs, notably publicly funded pre-K and Head Start. The information in these data sets may or may not be captured or integrated in a state’s workforce registries or surveys or linked to broader ECE data systems, such as licensing or quality rating and improvement (QRIS) databases. Without connecting data across sources, decision makers are unable to use the data to inform critical workforce policies. According to the Early Childhood Data Collaborative’s 2018 Early Childhood Data Systems survey, only 15 states (30 percent) reported linking individual workforce-level data across programs. In fact, workforce data were less likely to be linked compared to data about children participating in ECE programs and data about program characteristics (22 states, 44 percent). Linking discrete administrative data sets could reduce knowledge gaps about career pathways and provide information on staff turnover and other trends. 
  • State workforce registries and surveys may not be representative or collected consistently over time. Across the country, stakeholders have been engaged in efforts to increase the collection of data on the early childhood workforce in individual states, but there are limitations. Two main strategies employed to gather data on early educators across settings, programs, and funding streams are:
    • Workforce registries: According to the 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index, 48 states established statewide practitioner registries. Registries are typically used to store and track individual-level information about the demographics, completed and ongoing education, and employment status of the ECE workforce, and participation is often voluntary or only required of individuals working in publicly funded programs or participating in publicly funded professional development. Providing aggregate information on the size and characteristics of the workforce as a whole is often a secondary consideration. In Illinois, data from the workforce registry is used to produce an annual report on workforce trends related to changing demographics, education levels, training participation, and wages. The National Workforce Registry Alliance created a national workforce data set by aggregating data from state registry systems. However, the representativeness of these data varies due to different state policies regarding who is included in the registry.
    • Workforce surveys: More than half of states (27) had published reports from workforce survey data at some point between 2013-2018, and additional states, such as California, are currently funding new workforce surveys. Online, phone, or in-person surveys of directors and ECE teachers/providers collect data on their characteristics, working conditions, perceptions, and experiences. Surveys, which can be administered to directors and ECE teachers/providers, are typically designed with the express purpose of addressing workforce data gaps and capturing information such as staff characteristics, working conditions, perceptions, and experiences. In North Carolina, surveys of the early educator workforce in centers and homes are conducted regularly, and data are reported on education, compensation, access to professional supports, and staff turnover. However, North Carolina is the exception, as most states have not allocated resources for ongoing data collection, making information about the status of the workforce and changes overtime difficult to monitor and assess.

Overcoming the ECE Workforce Data Deficit 

To overcome the ECE workforce data deficit, federal and state leaders can take steps to develop and strengthen existing workforce data collection with the following actions.

  • Commit to and develop a plan to enact policies requiring participation in state workforce data systems by all members of the ECE workforce employed in licensed child care settings and in settings receiving public subsidies.
  • Identify potential federal (e.g., Child Care Development Fund, Preschool Development Grant), state, and local funding sources and design advocacy strategies to secure funds for workforce data collection, management, and analysis. Prioritize workforce data system development and improvement in state CCDF plans.
  • Ensure that workforce data collection and analysis are part of early childhood governance structures and support the integration of workforce data systems with broader early childhood data, such as licensing databases, resource and referral databases, quality rating and improvement systems, early childhood health data, and K-12 data.
  • Encourage federal leaders to resolve long-standing problems in federally funded datasets and actively support implementation of the National Academies’ Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education recommendation for more cohesive workforce data collection.