Strategy overview

  • Building a high-quality workforce for young children: Early childhood workforce support strategies seek to train, recruit, and retain educators and caregivers to deliver evidence-based child care and early education programming. Early childhood workers typically work with children ages 0-5 in homes, child care centers, or preschools. Strategies to support early childhood workers can be delivered by a jurisdiction, school district, preschool or child care center, public-private partnerships, and more.
  • Setting hiring standards: Within the early childhood workforce, most publicly funded preschools (ages 3-4) are required to hire credentialed staff (often a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, along with a teaching license). However, for other early child care, there is significant variation in credential requirements across states and even jurisdictions; this dynamic creates a challenge in cultivating a workforce of a consistently high quality.
  • Recruiting talent: Hiring high-quality early childhood educators is a challenge in many jurisdictions, with traditional recruiting efforts (i.e. on social media, at career fairs hosted by local colleges) yielding limited results. Increasingly promising approaches include apprenticeship and pipeline programs, which are often public-private partnerships between funders, school districts or preschool networks, and colleges or other credentialing institutions. These programs actively recruit high school students or recent graduates to train for a career in early childhood education through formal coursework, classroom experience, and mentorship; they are typically low- or no-cost to participants.
  • Training educators: Increasingly, child care centers and preschools seek to hire credentialed staff because programs delivered by trained educators are associated with improved outcomes for children. Before taking on full-time employment, many candidates receive formal training through college, apprenticeship, or pipeline programs, including academic coursework and student teaching. Candidates may also earn specialized credentials to work with specific subgroups, like children with disabilities or English language learners.
  • Retaining educators: Robust on-the-job training and other opportunities for growth (like leadership) are common retention strategies for early childhood programs, alongside increased pay and retention bonuses. On-the-job training can include coaching/mentoring, scholarships or paid time off to pursue supplemental training (i.e. to earn a credential for a specific curriculum), and on-site professional development (like skill-building workshops).

What evidence supports this strategy?

Multiple systematic reviews and rigorous evaluations of individual early childhood workforce supports found positive impacts on educational outcomes for children. More rigorous evaluation is needed to assess magnitude and duration of effects. 

  • A 2020 systematic review found professional development for early childhood educators was associated with improved educational outcomes for children, including school readiness and social-emotional learning.

  • A 2017 systematic review found that the education level of teachers is positively correlated with the quality of early childhood education.

  • Multiple non-rigorous reports found that higher wages for early childhood workers can be associated with increased retention and job satisfaction.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Implementing supports for the early childhood workforce has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are access to preschool and effective public education.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring access to preschool in your community: Examine the share of children enrolled in nursery school or preschool. These data are available through the Census Bureau’s Public Use Microdata Sample.

  • Measuring the effectiveness of public education in your community: Examine the average per-grade change in English Language Arts achievement between the third and eighth grades. These data are available from Stanford University’s Education Data Archive.

Best practices in implementation

  • Pay competitive wages: The most significant barrier to hiring and retaining a strong early childhood workforce is inadequate compensation. Local leaders should therefore prioritize funding for directly compensating early childhood workers, such as preschool teachers and child care center staff members. This should also include a robust effort to secure supplemental wages that may be available through state programs, alongside other benefits, like health insurance and paid sick leave.
  • Build recruiting pipelines: To address the early childhood educator workforce shortage, launch formal recruiting pipelines in addition to expanding traditional recruiting efforts. This may include partnering with community groups or high schools to identify candidates; working with community colleges to provide training; and child care centers and/or preschools to provide in-classroom experience and as potential employers.
  • Invest in continuous improvement: To recruit and retain early career educators, embed significant growth and leadership opportunities into the hiring and training process. Onsite mentoring and coaching are particularly promising, cost-effective practices in developing high-quality early education professionals; providing incentives or subsidies to pursue specialized degrees or credentials can similarly improve early childhood workforce quality.
  • Consider promising, innovative strategies: The early childhood workforce space is rapidly evolving as jurisdictions seek new solutions to addressing staff shortages. When evaluating options, strongly consider piloting new approaches in addition to traditional methods. These can include scaling up apprenticeship, fellowship, and residency programs; accepting alternative credentials (such as an associate’s degree paired with professional early childhood experience); offering various one-time incentives, like signing or retention bonuses; and increasing staff wellness supports, like mental health consultations and daily breaks.

Evidence-based examples

Systemic approach to assess and improve the quality in early and school-age care and education programs
Kindergarten readiness