Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Who Teaches In Head Start Programs — And Why They Leave Their Jobs

Head Start teacher Kathy Ammerman helps a student put together a puzzle.

Head Start teacher Kathy Ammerman helps a student put together a puzzle.

As we’ve written before, preschool programs hoping to keep well-qualified teachers in their employ face a critical problem: K-12 education pays better.

Federally-funded Head Start programs, at least, have made strides on the “well-qualified” front. Megan Carolan crunched the numbers for Ed Central and found that of the more-than 45,000 “lead teachers” in Head Start, roughly half hold BA’s in education — up from about 28 percent five years ago.

But she also found that one-quarter of the 5,900 staffers who left Head Start programs stayed in education, leaving for “higher compensation… in the same field.”

That tracks with what early education experts have told us in the past — and that, Carolan writes, is a problem:

The fact that roughly one in four Head Start teachers stays in the education field, but leaves the program due to compensation issues, calls real attention to the relationship between pay and teacher retention. The Office of Head Start provides guidance on compensation for program staff, acknowledging that, “the program’s ability to maintain a skilled and motivated work force is employee compensation.” But the turnover data indicate improvement is still needed, particularly as staff members are required to increase their credentials under the new Head Start law.

At the “assistant teacher” level, baccalaureate degrees are less common. Fewer than 10 percent of Head Start preschool assistant teachers hold BA’s or better in early childhood education, Carolan found.

The New America Foundation’s Clare McCann asks whether increasing salaries for better-qualified teachers in Head Start were behind increases in the overall cost of the program.

“We wonder if the cost of educating each child is rising because more teachers are earning bachelor’s degrees, and therefore are better compensated,” McCann wrote in May.

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