Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado

Recognizing the importance of a highly qualified early care and education workforce

Several decades of research have established the importance of high-quality early care and education (ECE) for children’s short- and long-term social/emotional and academic outcomes, as well as pointing to the critical role ECE can play in narrowing the educational achievement gap. Knowledgeable and skilled early educators are one of the most important factors in high-quality ECE, yet many communities throughout Colorado are struggling to attract and retain a well-qualified early educator workforce. Consequently, Early Milestones Colorado, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services and the Colorado Department of Education, spearheaded the project Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado in an effort to develop strategies to support and retain a well-qualified ECE workforce.

In collaboration with Early Milestones Colorado and the University of Colorado, Denver, NORC conducted a study to identify the strengths, gaps, and unmet needs in the workforce in order to help inform workforce recruitment, retention, and professional development. This study included a survey of 4,223 directors, assistant directors, teachers, and assistant teachers who worked in community-based ECE centers, Head Start centers, and public school-based ECE classrooms throughout Colorado—organizations that served children from birth through age five. The survey also canvassed 496 family child care providers who provided home-based ECE services. The aim was to describe providers’ basic demographic, educational, and workplace characteristics; to identify barriers experienced in accessing professional development and higher education; and to understand personal, workplace, and policy factors associated with job turnover and early educator well-being.

The research team staff calculated descriptive statistics to provide an overview of the characteristics of the ECE provider workforce, aspects of the settings in which they work, providers’ perceptions of their work lives and well-being, and providers’ perceptions of barriers to higher education and professional development. NORC researchers further developed linear regression models to identify factors that predict turnover, early educator well-being indices, and early educators’ intentions to stay in or to leave their jobs

Key results included:

  • Approximately 62% of directors, 54% of lead teachers, and 26% of family child care providers had at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Centers that enrolled children receiving Colorado Child Care Assistance Program subsidies were more likely to employ non-degreed teachers than centers that did not enroll children.
  • Turnover rates varied by job roles and ranged from 16% to 40%, with the highest levels of turnover in paraprofessional roles and in community-based and Head Start programs.
  • Low morale among teachers, excessive paperwork, a punitive work environment, and large staff-to-child ratios predicted greater occupational burnout among teachers.
  • Having more collaborative leadership, higher wages, and more workplace benefits predicted teachers’ intentions to remain in their jobs.

The findings provided much needed information about the state of the ECE workforce in Colorado and can help Colorado policymakers develop policies and infrastructure to promote a well-prepared, well-supported, and thriving ECE workforce.

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