The early childhood education system in the United States is fundamentally broken. In a sector that rarely sees quality, affordability and availability offered in the same place, that is more a statement of fact than it is a subjective viewpoint.
As is, this is how the field typically works (or doesn’t): Families are often forced to pay more than they can afford—sometimes as much or more than the mortgages on their homes—for their children’s early care and education. Yet those who do the caring and educating are among the most impoverished workers in this country—with salaries that fall in the second percentile when ranked against other professions nationally, earning an average of $11.65 an hour—and often require public assistance to make ends meet. Child care providers, meanwhile, barely break even in the best of times and end up shuttering in the worst. And children are often denied the high-quality care that they need and deserve.
This dynamic in the field is not new, but it has gotten considerably worse during the pandemic.
Take, for example, the labor shortage that is plaguing many industries nationwide. This is especially pronounced in the child care sector, ballooning into an all-out crisis in many parts of the country, where some programs are still not serving anywhere close to their pre-pandemic capacity due to high turnover and a dearth of early childhood educators. The shortage boils down to low wages, high risk and minimal respect, which are sure to outlast the pandemic unless something changes.
These challenges came into full view during the country’s vaccine rollout earlier this year, when K-12 educators in a number of states were prioritized over their counterparts in early childhood education. Many early childhood educators described the snub as “a slap in the face,” but said they weren’t surprised—it tracks with the long-standing low regard the public holds them in.
Even as the field has suffered, though, it has also, finally, garnered broad public attention, interest and outrage, which are often precursors to effecting change.
Congress is currently considering a bill that would include measures to fund universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, extend the child tax credit, increase wages for child care workers, and federally mandate paid family leave, though the final version of this bill will likely include diminished funding or complete cuts to some of those programs.
What has become clear over the last year-and-a-half, as the pandemic has dragged on, is that the early childhood sector has reached an inflection point. How will policy be reshaped? Will the field come to be treated like a public good, as many other countries view it to be? Who stands to gain and lose? What does high-quality early learning look like, and why does it matter? Will early childhood educators begin to earn the pay and respect they deserve?
As tides shift and changes unfold, many educators, families and leaders will look for guidance, understanding and clarity on these issues. EdSurge will be here to cover those changes and put them in context.
Expanding Our Coverage
Two years ago, our newsroom received support from Imaginable Futures to expand its coverage into early childhood education, with a particular lens on the workforce, a group that is overwhelmingly female and disproportionately women of color. It was a natural next step for us, as we had been covering K-12 and higher education for years. But perhaps more importantly was that, as is true in the public sphere, coverage of early childhood in the media has historically lacked the attention and resources that is afforded to education at other levels. We wanted to change that.
After all, early childhood marks the most critical developmental stage in a person’s life, according to brain science and evidence from numerous longitudinal studies. And it is a developmental period where, if children are properly nurtured, stimulated and invested in, many parties—individuals, families and whole communities; local, state and national governments; whole economic sectors—stand to gain.
Since we first began reporting on the early years—increasingly defined as birth to age 8—that coverage has become essential to what we do and who we are as a news organization, so much so that we have won awards for our reporting, spoken on panels about the issues, and otherwise been recognized as a place that tells true stories about early childhood education, with all its nuance and complexities.
Now, we are not only continuing that focus, but doubling down.
With renewed support from Imaginable Futures, we will expand our early childhood coverage beyond the workforce, to include the science of early learning, policy shifts on the horizon, pathways to credentialing and teacher preparation, investments in the field and more. We’ll be covering what works and why, but also what’s broken and how it can be fixed.
Early childhood coverage has become part and parcel of what we do here at EdSurge ever since we first jumped in. We will increase our coverage over the coming years, following emerging policy and research, reporting on-the-ground about the most pressing matters and learning from the early childhood educators doing this work every day.
We want to hear directly from early childhood educators of all kinds—including assistant teachers, lead teachers, program directors and other related roles. We also want to hear from families, researchers, advocates, policymakers and other parties who have a unique perspective, insight or expertise to share.
We invite you to reach out and share your thoughts, be a source for a story or to let us know if you want to pitch your own idea. EdSurge is currently accepting pitches from early childhood educators about their experiences in the field, particularly how their roles and work lives are changing. EdSurge has editors on staff who would love to work with you on writing a first-person essay about your experiences and observations in the field.
Please reach out by emailing [email protected] or by contacting me, a senior reporter at EdSurge covering early childhood education, at [email protected]. And if you’re an early childhood educator with a story to tell, please pitch your story here.
As policy, practices and public perception around early childhood education evolve, we are excited to be here to tell the stories of the real people and communities that are directly impacted. Join us or follow along as we do.