The Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder

A Model for Improving Quality in Early Learning and Care Programs

High-quality early learning and care are fundamental to ensuring educational excellence and children’s readiness to learn. Twenty-five years of research and analysis have shown that children in high-quality early learning and care programs are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and earn more as adults. They are also less likely to commit crime than children who have not had the benefit of high-quality early learning.

From a substantial body of research, we know that a strong relationship exists between the education, experience, and compensation of early learning and care teachers and the quality of teaching and care in early learning programs. Despite this body of evidence, childcare teachers and aides remain poorly paid and lack incentives for professional development and educational achievement. As a result, childcare centers experience turnover rates often exceeding 40 percent annually, further undermining the quality of care. As a consequence of the national failure to provide all young children access to affordable, quality early learning and care, one-fifth to one-half of American children are not fully prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten.

It is imperative that we improve the quality of early learning programs to create opportunity for the next generation of citizens in our country.

The Washington State Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder, a pilot program from 2000 to 2003, is a model for improving the quality of early learning and care by offering a career path for early learning and care providers. The program directly rewards teachers for relevant education, experience, and job responsibility by providing incentives for teachers to gain relevant higher education and make a professional commitment to early childhood education. Evaluations by the Washington State University Department of Human Development reinforce anecdotal information with evidenced-based research. Results show that the Career and Wage Ladder is an effective and affirmative means of ensuring quality early learning and care for our state’s young children.

Despite its documented success, the Career and Wage Ladder was discontinued during the state budget crisis of 2003. As an important tool in meeting Washington state’s constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to educate all children, Washington’s governor and legislature should reinstate and expand the Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder.

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