A good work environment requires appropriate pay, benefits, and opportunities for ongoing learning. But much more matters — policies and practices shape the climate of the workplace. Being able to depend on certain benefits, like paid time off when sick or to take care of family members, is an important contributor to a good work environment. Supports that enable good teaching practice are also critical and include:
- Sufficient staffing;
- Paid non-child contact time for completion of professional responsibilities and reflection with colleagues; and
- Opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect programs, classrooms, and teaching practices.
For decades, early educators have worked in settings that undermine their physical and financial well-being and have lacked the supports necessary to engage in effective teaching (see Early Educators Routinely Lack Teaching Supports). The persistent absence of early educator voices in policy decisions contributes to these poor work environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the problem. Many educators face exposure to a deadly disease without adequate protections to prevent illness or to care for themselves if they are exposed or fall sick and face quarantine, while simultaneously being called upon to implement challenging new public health requirements and, in some cases, to facilitate remote learning while public schools are closed.1Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE). (2020, May 7). California Child Care at the Brink: The Devastating Impact of COVID-19 on California Child Care. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/california-child-care-at-the-brink-covid-19/; Doocy, S., Kim, Y., & Montoya, E. (2020, July 22). California Child Care in Crisis: The Escalating Impacts of COVID-19 as California Reopens. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/california-child-care-in-crisis-covid-19/; NAEYC (2020, July 13). Holding On Until Help Comes: A Survey Reveals Child Care’s Fight to Survive. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/our-work/public-policy-advocacy/holding_on_until_help_comes.survey_analysis_july_2020.pdf; St. George, D. (2020, August 19). “Pandemic parents: Why can child care open in schools that won’t allow classes?” The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/pandemic-parents-why-can-child-care-open-in-schools-that-wont-allow-classes/2020/08/18/fad0243c-dc9c-11ea-809e-b8be57ba616e_story.html; Strategies for Children (2020, April). Childcare Provider COVID-19 Survey, [Survey Results Brief]. Boston, MA. Retrieved from http://www.strategiesforchildren.org/COVID-19/COVID19_SurveySummary.pdf.
“Lack of adult-size seating and table options often affects my ability to comfortably interact with children and causes pain for me. Emotionally I am supported by staff/peers but have very little time to effectively communicate with them, as I am typically relieving them or filling in for them.Minnesota2Quote from CSCCE survey of teachers. For more information about the study, see Austin, L.J.E., Whitebook, M., Schlieber, M., & Phillip, G. (2019). Teachers’ Voices: Work Environment Conditions That Impact Teacher Practice and Program Quality – Minnesota. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/teachers-voices-minnesota-2018/.
This can lead to stress and not enough time to prepare adequately for the needs of the children as well as adults.”
The lack of national standards for early educator work environments exacerbate these challenges.3Federal programs, such as Head Start or the Department of Defense child care program, do not include explicit standards for work environments for providers that receive their funds nor are such standards required by the federal Child Care Development Block Grant. For information on voluntary accreditation standards, see: Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L.J.E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early Childhood Workforce Index – 2018. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from http://cscce.berkeley.edu/topic/early-childhood-workforce-index/2018/. As a consequence, it has fallen to the states to set standards, yet state-level quality improvement initiatives have consistently missed the mark when addressing workforce needs. Workforce-related standards have largely focused on increasing opportunities for education and training, with little attention paid to improving work environments and adult well-being.
The ability of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as mechanisms to improve quality equitably has been questioned,4Jenkins, J., Duer, J. & Connors, M. (2021). “Who participates in quality rating and improvement systems?” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 54(1), pp. 219-227. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.09.005; Lieberman, A. (2017, June 2). “Even With More Research, Many Q’s Remain about QRIS,” New America, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/even-more-research-many-qs-remain-about-qris/. yet they remain the dominant framework and strategy in states’ attempts to improve quality. As states continue to use QRIS, the indicators of quality signal what elements of quality a state prioritizes, thus, it is critical to question whether a QRIS includes key work environment standards as part of the quality framework. The inclusion of work environment standards for educators in state policy and programs is an important step for prioritizing the well-being of educators, but to be clear, indicators alone cannot be the end goal: states must ensure that child care programs have the financial resources they need to meet these standards, whether they are providing center- or home-based care.
Additionally, the pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of elevating health and safety provisions for the workforce. As the Index indicators were underway before the pandemic struck, we recognize now that these elements are a missing component to be considered for future assessments.
Overview of State Progress on Work Environment Standards
- Stalled: 27 states
- Edging Forward: 10 states
- Making Headway: 4 states
- Not Applicable: 8 states
- Not Available: 2 states
In 2020, the majority of states do not include key work environment standards in their QRIS (see Figure 3.6) — a reality that has scarcely improved since 2018. Change primarily occurred for center-based programs, reflecting both gains and losses across all three standards: centers saw a net increase in standards related to paid professional development time (+2 states) and paid planning time (+3 states), but a net decrease by one state for salary schedules and/or benefits. Home-based programs saw no marked change since 2018, with only one state (Pennsylvania) adding a standard for paid planning and/or preparation time. As a result, only two states improved: North Carolina advanced from stalled to edging forward, and Wisconsin changed from edging forward to making headway . Another change since 2018 was the number of states that could be assessed based on data availability from the QRIS Compendium. Florida, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., could not be assessed in 2018 but were assessed in 2020; all three received a status of stalled; none of them included these work environment standards in their QRIS.
Map of State Progress on Work Environment Standards, 2020
Key to State Progress on Work Environment Standards
|0-4 points per category||Stalled|
|5-8 points per category||Edging Forward|
|9-12 points per category||Making Headway|
State Progress on Work Environment Standards, 2018 & 2020
Note: Ten states could not be included in this assessment for one or more of the following reasons: their state does not have a QRIS; their QRIS is not administered at the state level; their QRIS is currently under development; or data for their state were otherwise unavailable through the 2019 QRIS Compendium.
State Progress on Work Environment Standards per Indicator, 2018 & 2020
State Progress on Work Environment Standards: Indicators
Indicator 1: Does a state’s QRIS include standards for paid professional development time for center- and home-based programs?
Rationale: Paid professional development enables educators to engage in reflection and collaboration with peers, which is necessary for the ongoing development of teaching practice, while receiving compensation for their time and contributions.
Current Status Across States
- Fifteen states include paid professional development time as a quality benchmark for center-based programs.
- Vermont is the only state that includes paid professional development time as a quality benchmark for home-based programs.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, there was a net increase of two states including paid professional development time standards for center-based programs in their QRIS: while four states (Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin) added standards, two states (Georgia and Pennsylvania) no longer included these standards. For home-based settings, there was no change in the states that included paid professional development time between 2018 and 2020.
“My program gives us paid planning for one hour per week. We use this time wisely but it’s still insufficient for all the required planning, paperwork, and environment changes.”New York5Quote from CSCCE survey of teachers. For more information about the study, see Whitebook, M., Schlieber, M., Hankey, A., Austin, L.J.E., & Philipp, G. (2018). Teachers’ Voices: Work Environment Conditions That Impact Teacher Practice and Program Quality — New York. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/teachers-voices-new-york-2018/.
Indicator 2: Does a state’s QRIS include standards for paid planning and/or preparation time for center- and home-based programs?
Rationale: Paid time for teachers to plan or prepare for children’s activities is essential to a high-quality service, but it is not guaranteed for early educators, many of whom must plan while simultaneously caring for children or during unpaid hours.
Current Status Across States
- Sixteen states include paid planning and/or preparation time as a quality benchmark for center-based programs.
- Eight states include paid planning and/or preparation time as a quality benchmark for home-based programs.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, there was a net increase of three states including paid planning and/or preparation time standards for center-based programs in their QRIS: while four states (Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina) added standards, one state (Nevada) no longer included these standards. For home-based programs, there was an increase of one additional state since 2018: Pennsylvania now includes paid planning and/or preparation time.
Indicator 3: Does a state’s QRIS include standards for salary scales and/or benefits for center- and home-based programs?
Rationale: QRIS could be an opportunity to signal that — just like education levels — compensation and retention are important markers of quality, but not all QRIS include standards for salary scales or benefit options (e.g., health insurance, paid sick leave, family leave, vacation/holidays) as part of their ratings. Additionally, even when QRIS include such standards, they may still lack guidelines for programs about what is appropriate (e.g., salary scales that begin at a living wage rather than the minimum wage).
Current Status Across States
- Twenty-one states include standards for salary scales and/or benefit options for center-based programs.
- Eleven states include standards for salary scales and/or benefit options for home-based programs.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, two states (Arkansas and New Jersey) added standards for salary scales and/or benefits for center-based programs, while three states (Arizona, Georgia, and Oklahoma) removed such standards from their QRIS, resulting in a net loss of one state. For home-based settings, there was no change since 2018.
International and U.S. Models for Adopting Early Educator Work Environment Standards
More than two decades ago, early educators in center- and home-based programs led an effort to articulate standards for their work environments to support their teaching practice. Recently updated, the Model Work Standards for Centers and Homes continue to provide a vision for ensuring ECE teachers’ rights and needs are met throughout the United States.12Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) & American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation (AFTEF) (2019). Model Work Standards for Teaching Staff in Center-Based Child Care. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Washington DC: American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation; Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) & American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation (AFTEF) (2019). Model Work Standards for Early Educators in Family Child Care. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Washington DC: American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/creating-better-child-care-jobs-model-work-standards/.
Internationally, the importance of teacher work environments for quality early care and education is increasingly recognized. In 2014, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published Policy Guidelines on the Promotion of Decent Work for Early Childhood Education Personnel — the first international text to specifically articulate standards for the work environments of early educators.13International Labour Office, Sectoral Activities Department (2014). ILO Policy Guidelines on the promotion of decent work for early childhood education personnel. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_dialogue/@sector/documents/normativeinstrument/wcms_236528~1.pdf. In 2018, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted the first international survey focused on the ECE workforce, including information on the quality of their work environments and work-related stress.14Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2019). Providing Quality Early Childhood Education and Care: Results from the Starting Strong Survey 2018. Paris: TALIS, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1787/301005d1-en.