Highly educated… undercompensated

Highly educated… undercompensated

It has been my privilege to serve Wisconsin Early Childhood Association for the past 14 years. Our organization works to promote the critical importance of the child care profession and strengthen investments in the teachers who provide vital care and education to children from over 72% of Wisconsin’s families each day.

Child care professionals struggle against common misperceptions of their work.  Over time, I have heard variations on the following theme: “Child care providers are really just babysitters, aren’t they? Therefore, their compensation seems right in line, yes?”

Well, no.

In early July Wisconsin Early Childhood Association released a comprehensive study of early childhood teachers in Wisconsin. (Our last study was in 2010). The findings will make for some very different conversations.

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Take for example the education level of child care teachers. More than half – 52% – have an Associate degree or higher. This is more than the Wisconsin workforce in general in which 42% hold an Associate degree or higher.2  The education level of child care teachers has a considerable effect on the quality of teaching and on outcomes for our youngest children. Higher education at even greater levels for the early childhood profession is essential.
College graduateYet, there’s an unexplained pay gap. Wisconsinites with an Associate degree who work in fields other than early care and education can expect to earn $18/hour on average. However, degree-holders in early care and education can expect pay which averages $10/hour.  Annualized, child care teachers earn $17,000 less than other Wisconsinites with an Associates degree. The gap grows wider when comparing those in the field who hold a Bachelor’s degree  – $12/hour – versus those who hold that degree and work in another field – $22.80/hour. Annually, the child care teacher with the Bachelor’s degree earns fully $22,500 LESS.

Often I hear, “Well child care teachers don’t go into the field for money. They do the work because they love children.”  It’s a perception not unique to Wisconsin. A recent article in the New York Times described a conversation between a child care provider in New Mexico and a legislator she visited at the state Capitol to lobby for education funding:

“She remembered meeting with a senator who told her, ‘You don’t get into this for the money; you’re paid in love.’ ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘When my landlord comes, can I just give him a hug?’

  1. COWS, State of Working Wisconsin 2014 http://www.cows.org

Ruth Schmidt is Executive Director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association and a registered lobbyist.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys

Stephanie Harrison

Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

In health care, we recognize the vital importance of early childhood education on long-term health and well-being. As we seek to eliminate health disparities and ensure that everyone in Wisconsin achieves their highest health potential, we must pay attention to brain development in our infants and toddlers if we are going to create long-lasting change in the health of the population.

One strategy is to include early childhood education in our quality improvement processes. For example, one of the tools we use is “The Five Whys” – a technique from the Six Sigma framework. When facing a systemic problem, asking “why” five different times assists in getting to the root cause.

Here’s an example of the technique:

1. Why is our county doing so poorly in the County Health Rankings?

Because a high percentage of people are living in poverty.

2. Why are a high percentage of people living in poverty?

Because the high school graduation rate is low and young people can’t access living-wage jobs that fit the education they have.

3. Why is the high school graduation rate low?

Because a significant number of students need remedial education services and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties that make completing school difficult.

4.Why do a significant number of students need remedial education and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties?

Because they did not get a firm foundation in these skills between infancy and age five  –  when their brains are undergoing the most significant development.

5. Why didn’t they get a firm foundation in these skills in their early education?

Because their families couldn’t afford high-quality early education.

The connection of health status to early childhood
The UW Population Health Institute  has shown that much of our health is actually about our behaviors and social and economic factors, like education and employment. As we ask why even more, we can trace things like poor health, smoking, substance abuse, graduation from high school, and employment back to the foundations for language, vocabulary, and socialization that are built in early childhood. In fact, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University notes that disparities start to show up around 18 months of age.  This is particularly evident in vocabulary. In response, many community health centers in Wisconsin participate in the Reach Out and Read program as a way of getting health care providers to urge parents to read regularly to their kids – thereby providing a more language-rich environment for their children.

If we are serious about making our state a healthier place, we need to pay more attention to the education that our children are receiving at home and at childcare centers in their earliest days and years.

By Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

Investing in America’s Children

Investing in America’s Children

In April the Economic Policy Institute released a comprehensive report on child care in America – as an economic driver, a foundation for young children’s later success, and a source of financial stress both for parents seeking childcare and the workforce that provides it. The report is rich with infographics and gives a state-by-state view of the costs. Wisconsin’s data prompted a piece by Wisconsin Public Radio. In it WECA Executive Director Ruth Schmidt points out that despite high costs for families, early childhood teachers in Wisconsin earn an average of about $10 an hour. With an annual average income of $20,080, – 36%- of the childcare workforce relies on public assistance to meet the financial needs of their own families.Childcare-is-out-of-reach
If childcare costs are so high, why aren’t childcare teachers paid better? Part of the answer has to do with child-to-staff ratios. For example, by law one Wisconsin infant teacher can only care for a maximum of four children under the age of two. Meeting infants’ social, cognitive and basic needs requires a great deal of individual attention. Facility operating costs, equipment and supplies, the ever-increasing cost of rent and property, and the cost of complying with various governmental regulations contribute to the high cost. Ms. Schmidt says the onus can’t be on parents, businesses or government individually to come up with a solution, but rather “there has to be some sort of a tri-part approach.”

Mary Claire Babula  June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Claire Babula June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Babula

Mary Claire Babula

The world of early learning in Wisconsin has lost a rare and fiery gem; Mary Babula, recently retired WECA Director of Membership, a dear colleague, friend and mentor has died.

Within two hours of her passing a local child care program came to our offices with a line of jacketed and mittened small souls to sing to us as they do a few times a year.  “ABCD, EFG…” it was only fitting that their little voices escorted Mary on her next journey.  Without knowing, their presence was cathartic.  Their bright smiles, their wide eyes taking everything in, their fidgeting little hands; they are why Mary did all that only Mary could do so very well in her own Mary Babula ways.  For Mary knew, deeply and completely, the work of nurturing, caring for and educating our youngest children to be the most important and worthiest of work.

Mary’s career in early childhood education began as a teacher/director at Christian Day Care Center in Madison in the 1970’s. Later she became the director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association which grew under her leadership. Mary was an advocate for children’s and teacher’s rights. She challenged law makers and modeled patience and understanding for all.

Mary was someone with many passionate commitments. She was active in music through Womonsong, international travel through Friendship Force, and issues of equity for women and families through the Wisconsin Womens Network. She loved traveling, camping and canoeing and frequently visited the Boundary Waters and many other wilderness areas.

She is survived by her domestic partner, Mary Mastaglio, family members, many many friends and her WECA family to which she gave so much. WECA, together with the Babula and Mastaglio families are discussing how best to honor Mary’s significant legacy and impact with the financial gifts that friends and colleagues have made in her name. In early 2016 we look forward to sharing more details with you.

Why Mentoring Matters

Why Mentoring Matters

We all probably have a story of a person who we might call a mentor. That is, a person who took the time to give helpful advice, served as the role model of the teacher we aspired to be, or encouraged us through a tough time until we came out stronger and more knowledgeable in the end. This is professional development with ‘staying power.’

Peggy Haack

“Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.” -Peggy Haack, WECA Outreach Coordinator, and mentor.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in creating more formalized mentoring relationships.  The key word here is “relationships.” The real learning happens when there is a trusting relationship between a learning teacher and a mentor.  Programs experience success and at the same time discover a new pathway of leadership for teachers when they match those willing to serve as mentors to those who are less experienced or skillful.  Other programs choose to work with mentors from outside of their programs.  For both models, an investment of time is required to build a relationship between a learning teacher and a skilled mentor.

I believe that there are three powerful parallels between our work with children and the success of mentoring as a way to grow teacher competence.

First is the concept of relationships. We know this to be the key to unlocking curiosity and an eagerness to learn in children.  It’s the same for adults.  If we trust that someone really cares about who we are, what we think and how we learn, then we aim to please!

Second is the concept of developmentally appropriate practice.  We know from our work with children that if we take the time to figure out just where the child is on the learning curve, we can craft a plan suited to him or her.  We figure out the next step and build upon small successes so the challenges don’t seem overwhelming. Mentoring embodies this “one-to-one” approach.

The third parallel is the concept of reflective practice.  Our work with children teaches us to question why and to seek answers. For example, “Why is this transition so difficult for the children and how can I change it?”  When it comes to professional development, often the learning teacher knows what she wants to change in her practice, but doesn’t know how or maybe even why.  Having a mentor to help sort through the questions and attune to the teacher’s goals may be exactly what it takes.  For the person who is also engaged in formal education, mentoring can be the bridge between taking what one learns in a classroom and through textbooks and actually putting that learning into practice – a process that requires a great deal of reflection.

Mentoring is about supporting teachers as learners through their everyday practice. Mentoring can intentionally implemented as part of a professional development plan.  Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

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For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. ““For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters’ top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education,” says Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. In the poll, 89% of voters agree that we need to ensure more children don’t miss out on early learning and socialization experiences during the first five years of life when the brain develops more dramatically. 63% strongly agree on this point.


ffyf invest now graphic

What does this mean for Wisconsin?
For WECA – a statewide organization focused on the child care workforce and programs that raise childcare quality – the findings inspire us to keep moving forward. In myriad ways WECA calls for greater investment in quality early care. Our outreach, education and advocacy on this issue is multi-faceted. In 2015 WECA published Starting Early, Starting Now, a research report that outlines potential ways forward in funding a child care delivery system in Wisconsin that is accessible and affordable to all families. Our interactive “Jack’s story” shows the return on investment Wisconsin taxpayers will see when young children get quality early care right from the start. And as the source detail notes – the financial projections are conservative. Throughout the year WECA staff meet with Wisconsin legislators and serve as policy advisors on key state and national committees focused on young children and the early childhood workforce that is so central to the outcomes we seek. WECA works with community partners and recently, sponsored a viewing and discussion of the Raising of America documentary that is traveling throughout the U.S.

As we move closer to the general election cycle we’ll be increasing our outreach and education on behalf of early childhood education investments in Wisconsin.

Your support is needed – as an advocate in our Forward for Kids initiative – and as a donor.  Contributions enable WECA to strengthen its statewide advocacy work that unites families, policymakers, child care providers and others in building a high quality and affordable system of early care and education for all children.

Everyday Leadership

WECA is Wisconsin’s largest association of childcare providers. In a recent member newsletter, Executive Director Ruth Schmidt shared her reflections on leadership.  To honor the everyday leadership Wisconsin childcare providers exemplify each day, we share Ruth’s valued thoughts.

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

My father, Stephen, was an everyday leader.  He passed away three years ago.  I knew him as a dad, a loving husband to my mother, and a college professor.  And for me, that was more than enough.  He loved me and my siblings like a river that had overrun its banks, a mountain whose peak was always in the clouds going on forever.  He challenged me to be strong enough to know that trust and vulnerability are the truest windows through which to view the goodness of my fellow human beings.  He expected me to follow my passions because that is the sort of life we are called to give to this world.

Over 700 people came to the visitation after Dad died.  I knew he was loved and respected but until that evening in September 2012 I had no idea the impact of his life.  People who he taught in the 1950s as 1st graders came to speak of the lasting imprint he made in their lives, of how his influence shaped who they became.  People who sang in the church choir he directed in the 1960s came to speak of the ongoing joy of music he left in their lives.  Students who studied under him and were advised by him at one of the three colleges he taught at over four decades came and spoke of the better people they had become as a result of being challenged by him to be their best, to always consider the “other,” to question the accepted and live with integrity.  Professors came and spoke of his relentless dedication to his field of study, but more importantly, to the art of teaching.  There were mentions of his prolific writing that offered new insights, of his lecturing and public speaking that left you sure he was addressing just you in a room full of people, of the lifelong relationships he fostered and nurtured through letters, and phone calls and emails.  People came from across the country to pay their final respects because they recognized that their lives were better from having known him.

An everyday leader.  A teacher.  A call to live fully, live passionately.  A demand to question, to consider the “other,” to be open to what is new and hold in reverence much of what is old.  An everyday leader.  A teacher.

I have watched what you do.  I have seen you with children; each child sure you are there for her alone.   I have heard you sing your songs, and move your feet and clap your hands understanding why your voice and your movements and patterns are shaping the next generation. I have seen you make remarkable toys for your classrooms out of items many would have thrown away.  I have looked at you deep in concentration gleaning everything you can from a conference workshop and challenging each other to learn more, create more, teach more, play more, and give more.   I have listened to directors share the struggle you face supporting your staff, meeting your payroll, buying your program’s food and materials, filling out your forms, writing your handbooks, filing your taxes and so much more with few resources.  I have listened to teachers tell of working two jobs because you don’t earn enough in the field of child care but don’t want to leave.  I have listened to family child care providers who have taken out second mortgages in order to keep your program running.  I used to ask myself, “why?”  I don’t anymore.  You are everyday leaders, in the most exceptional ways.  You lead from your hands to your hearts. You lead in a quest for constant improvement.  You lead by modeling, reading, rocking, holding and guiding.

From my father and each of you I have learned lessons to help me become a better leader in the work I do at WECA.  Never have I been more aware of the fact that leadership is a lifelong quest than when I reflect on what I have learned in my 13 years at WECA.  And never have I been more certain of the fact that we lead best when we honor the leaders around us.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the tips of my fingers, for your beautiful everyday leadership.