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).

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.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure it addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute and Mathematica have developed indicator frameworks to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in high-quality programs. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in this strategy could help, examine the following:

Mathematica's Education-to-Workforce (E-W) Indicator Framework helps local leaders identify the data that matter most in helping students and young adults succeed. Local leaders can use the E-W framework to better understand education and workforce conditions in their communities and to identify strategies that can improve outcomes in these areas.

Several indicators in the E-W Framework may be improved with investments in high-quality programs. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in this strategy could help, examine the following:

  • Teacher credentials: Percentage of courses taught by teachers certified to teach the given subject or grade level.
  • Teacher experience: Percentage of teachers with less than one year, one to five years, and more than five years of experience.
  • Educator retention: Percentage of teachers who return to teaching in the same school from year to year or percentage of school leaders who have served in their current positions for less than two years, two to three years, and four or more years.
  • Representational racial and ethnic diversity of educators: Educational staff composition by race and ethnicity (%) compared to student composition by race and ethnicity (%).
  • Classroom observations of instructional practice: Scores on measures of teacher–child interactions, such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) Interactions subscale, or the Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES) (which assesses equitable classroom interactions).

  • 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