I wrote these thoughts for a class I am taking as professional development.
According to the NAEYC position on Developmentally Appropriate Practice, the field of Early Childhood Education in America faces three important challenges. There are increasing shortages in quality infant and toddler programs, more students from immigrant families who are learning English are present classrooms, and an increasing number of special needs children being included in typical classroom situations.
There is one challenge the NAEYC position does not address and that is adequate compensation for all of this expertise the field is demanding. This is the most likely source of most of the challenges facing early childhood programs. Teachers are expected to get more and more education, often taking on debt to do so, and are paid less than almost any other profession. The fact is our country as whole does not value early childhood education enough to have a constantly up to date workforce in this field. ECE teachers often make just over minimum wage, unless they are able to work for the few government sponsored programs in which even experienced teachers work part year and part day and in almost all cases make at the top of salary scale what other professions make as starting wages. This situation leads to burn out and turn over in staff no matter how much administrators of these programs work on maintaining positive working models.
This issue also affects the number of minorities who remain in the profession. When I was working in Seattle most of the teachers were white while the assistants tended to be Asian and African immigrants who were attending college programs in other fields and had no plans to remain in ECE. Every program I have worked for, with the exception of a program for migrant agricultural workers, has had mostly white female teachers with husbands who had professional jobs that earned more than theirs.
I think this is the most important issue affecting the quality of ECE programs in our country, especially when the importance of the role of teacher, stated so clearly in by the NAEYC in their position on appropriate practice, is crucial to the quality of these programs.