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What Will It Take to Get Better Data About the Early Childhood Workforce?

The early childhood community is tackling tough discussions about where we stand with workforce development and where we are headed. We seek to answer questions such as, “What are the minimum qualifications for teaching staff?”, “What types of jobs fall within the role/title of early childhood professional?” and “How do we address wage issues?”

Two national efforts have brought focus and urgency to the conversation.  

First, a report from the National Academy of Science recommends the development and implementation of comprehensive pathways and multiyear timelines for transitioning to a bachelor’s degree qualification requirement for all lead educators working with children birth through age eight.

In response to these recommendations, representatives from national organizations developed a set of actions that could advance a highly qualified professional field of practices.  

Second, Power to the Profession, which is led by NAEYC but includes many national partners, aims to establish a shared framework of career pathways, knowledge and competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation that unifies the entire profession.

Policymakers need comprehensive, verified, and representative data to respond to these questions and inform ongoing efforts, systems improvements, and workforce development strategies.

The Case for Workforce Registries

What will it take to get this data? Registry leaders maintain that workforce registries are the “hub” of workforce data collection in their respective states/regions.

According to the National Workforce Registry Alliance, a registry is an information system for the early childhood and afterschool workforce that:

  • promotes professional growth and development;
  • captures data about early childhood and afterschool practitioners in a variety of roles;
  • is based on state career level systems that provide a framework for professional development;
  • places individuals on a career level based upon verified educational information;
  • recognizes and honors professional achievements of the early childhood and afterschool workforce; and
  • informs policy makers and partners.

Registries provide data to support:

  • career ladder assignment
  • credentialing decisions
  • training approval
  • compliance with annual training requirements for state child care licensing; and
  • scoring determinations for staff qualifications in quality rating and improvement systems.

are often supported by state contracts using quality set-aside funds from the Child Care Development Block Grant. States construct and fund the registry scopes of work to meet the needs of the respective state professional development system with limited funds available. 

If national conversations yield movement toward strategies such as individual licensure, are states prepared to fund this additional work? Are registries equipped to handle verification of individual licensure requirements and awarding of individual licenses?

Workforce Registry Challenges

Registry leaders promote registry data as a source of regional or statewide reporting to meet various state and federal reporting needs and analyze workforce data to inform policy development. While state and regional workforce registries are a logical contender to provide these data given the verification practices and comprehensive nature of the collections, many state and regional registries struggle to enroll a representative number of professionals even if they have successfully tied registry enrollment to participation in quality initiatives (e.g., credentialing or QRIS).  

The National Workforce Registry Alliance examined the rate of participation by one role within the workforce: directors of licensed programs in the contributing registries geographic areas.  According to their research, the rate of participation for 10 states and 1 regional registry ranges widely—from 10% to 100%—with the average of 44% across registries. This average is largely driven by registries where state child care licensing regulations require participation in workforce registries.

Rates of participation for providers is a more difficult calculation because it is based on reported capacity of licensed programs and state teacher/child ratio requirements.

In late 2017 the National Workforce Registry Alliance set a five-year goal to increase participation rates within workforce registries. Success will be measured by the following benchmarks:

  1.  55% of directors (in licensed programs) participating in registries in each state
  2.  50% of providers (in licensed programs) participating in each state

The National Workforce Registry Alliance has identified many other goals to ensure ongoing relevance of registries and improve their operational and reporting capacities. However, these goals may face some issues:

  • The participation goal is only relevant to registries operating in states that do not require participation in the workforce registry as part of employment in licensed early childhood programs.
  • Registries with these requirements will have already met or exceeded this goal and benchmarks.
  • Given limited funds, not all registries will be able to meet the benchmarks.
  • Others may debate that regardless of whether registries can meet the benchmarks, 55% participation is insufficient to meet the future system and policy needs for data.

So, let us revisit the original question: What will it take to get comprehensive, verified, and representative data about the early childhood workforce?

We cannot continue with limited pockets of comprehensive, verified, and representative data in the just a few states that require registry participation. We cannot rely on national survey data that, while representative by research standards, are infrequent, costly and unverified.

Are state and national policymakers and early childhood leaders, as part of the larger systems planning work, ready to discuss whether state early learning systems should require participation in workforce registries?


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This post was co-authored by Ruth Lett and Nancy Copa.

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