Thursday, September 22, 2005

New Jersey

Child Care Workers' Education Declines in New Jersey
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

The number of college-educated child care workers has dropped steadily over 20 years as the number of children in day care has exploded, raising questions about the overall quality of supervision, according to a national study released today.

While the national picture looks bleak, New Jersey's day care staff is among the most qualified in the nation, according to Stephen Herzenberg, an economist and researcher for the study, "Losing Ground in Early Childhood Education: Declining Workforce Qualifications in an Expanding Industry."

"New Jersey has always been historically higher," he said. While the national average of teachers and administrators with a four-year degree is 30 percent, the rate at state child care centers is 45 percent, the study said. However, that figure is down from 1980, when the state rate was 54 percent.

The study, the first to document changes in the education of child care staff, looked at teachers and administrators at centers from 1979 to 2004. From the early '80s until now, those with a college education dropped from 43 to 30 percent, nationally. At the same time, the industry exploded -- more than doubling its work force to 400,000.

The finding is significant because of mounting evidence that high-quality early childhood education -- including well-trained staff and low staff turnover -- helps children do better in school, as well as later in life.

"I think what this study does is validate what folks in the field know has happened for quite a few years. They've now got the goods when it comes to making the case that these qualifications are far too low," Herzenberg said. "It's penny- wise and pound foolish."

Ironically, the decline in college- educated staff is directly linked to the increase of young children in day care. As more opportunities for higher-paying jobs opened up to women, female college graduates shunned traditionally female careers, such as early childhood care.

In 2004, the average hourly pay for a college-educated teacher or administrator in a child care center was $10, compared to $19.23 for all female college graduates, the study said. A bit more than one-quarter received health care benefits, compared to two-thirds of all American workers.

"We're seeing a brain drain out of the early child care system," said Marci Young, deputy director of the Center for the Child Care Work Force, an advocacy group linked with the American Federation of Teachers.

One child care dropout is Maritza Oyola of Newark, who graduated from Montclair State University in May with a bachelor's degree. Oyola, who has 10 years' experience in child care, in centers and as a nanny, applied for a job as a classroom teacher in a for-profit child care chain.
But she changed her mind when she found out the starting pay was $10 to $12 an hour, right around the $11.50 that is the average pay for the job in New Jersey. Instead, she took a position working with mentally disabled adults that pays nearly $16 an hour, with full benefits.

"The (child care) pay was not equal to my years of experience and my educational background," said Oyola, 31.

Nonetheless, New Jersey is considered a leader in state-supported, high-quality child care because of its commitment to the so-called Abbott districts, the poorest in the state. Under court mandate, teachers of 3- and 4-year-olds must have a degree and be certified to teach pre-kindergarten through grade 3. They also must be paid the same rate and get benefits similar to those of public school teachers.

Also, changes approved this year by the state licensing bureau stipulate directors of centers with more than 30 children have a bachelor's degree or receive additional training.

"I'm ecstatic about what we've accomplished so far," said Ellen Frede, a professor of early childhood education at the College of New Jersey and an architect of the Abbott program.

"Unfortunately, that's not the case with lots of the programs in general. It's absolutely alarming when you take into consideration the research over the last decade or so that shows how important it is for children to have a high-quality learning environment."

The study, sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., economic think tank, was conducted by researchers at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Pa.
Peggy O'Crowley covers family is sues. She may be reached at pocrow or at (973) 392-5810.

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