Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
If education is so central to American success, why – as a country – don’t we invest more in the ones doing the educating? Sue Russell is Executive Director of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center, which, among other efforts, provides comprehensive scholarships to the incumbent early childhood workforce – a program that has delivered more than $540MM in grants to some 165,000 educators.
Chris Riback: Sue, welcome to the studio.
Sue Russell: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Chris Riback: In our country, we state strongly, “Education matters” – Early education matters. We also state that teachers matter, and that educating our teachers matters. So how come we don’t put our money where our mouths are?
Sue Russell: That’s the million-dollar question, or maybe the billion-dollar question. I think we have forgotten the relationship between good early childhood teachers and positive outcomes, and we’re learning more about that. I think the science behind early childhood is finally zeroing in on how important the teacher is.
Sue Russell: Not just her education, but how well she’s compensated and supported in doing her job. So I feel like we’re turning a corner, and that both our populace and our policy makers are beginning to realize that without investing in high quality, well-supported, well-compensated teachers, we’re not going to achieve the outcomes we want for young children.
Chris Riback: That’s what I wanted to ask. So beyond the unfairness, what’s the effect? To put it bluntly, there are a lot of professions where folks aren’t paid what they should be or could be. Why does it matter in this instance?
Sue Russell: Well, it matters because the wellbeing of a teacher, particularly with young children, matters. And so, when a high proportion of our early childhood educators are making poverty-level wages, and half of them are living on some form of public assistance, they’re living in a state of scarcity. They’re living under the kind of stress that has to interfere with their productivity and their effectiveness in the classroom.
Sue Russell: And there’ve been a few studies that have actually looked at the depression levels of early childhood teachers, and particularly those working with infants and toddlers. There was a study in Arkansas that found a very high percentage of those early educators were scored as having depression on a scale. And that’s not going to be good for building bonds and relationships-
Chris Riback: It’s terrible.
Sue Russell: … having good language with young children. So we have to care for our early educators.
Chris Riback: What role does T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood play? What does it do?
Sue Russell: The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship Initiative provides comprehensive scholarships to the incumbent early childhood workforce. So what that means, if you’re an early childhood educator in any one of our T.E.A.C.H. states, you’re going to be eligible to get a scholarship to earn a basic credential, the associate degree, the bachelor’s degree, and in some states, master’s degrees. What I mean by comprehensive, and this is really the key and what makes T.E.A.C.H. different, is that we know our workforce. We know who they are, we know what their struggles are. And so we wrap around a system of support that helps them be able to balance work, family, and school.
Sue Russell: So they get help with tuition, and fees, and books. They get paid release time. They get a travel stipend. When they finish so many credit hours, they’re going to get a raise or a bonus. And so it’s this kind of support. And they get a counselor, a cheerleader who’s going to help them navigate that, the dynamic of school, work and family.
Chris Riback: And tell me more about the scholarship recipients. What do they look like – where do they come from, and perhaps most importantly, what do they go on to do?
Sue Russell: Many of them work in childcare centers. Some work in family childcare homes. They work in Head Start, pre-K and childcare settings. Half of our recipients are women of color, or of Hispanic origin. Half are first-generation college students. It means nobody in their family has a college degree. And so, that’s what I mean, about knowing who our workforce is in order to get success.
Sue Russell: As they go through their education and they start earning credentials, and then degrees, and then other degrees, we see real wage progression and career progression. And well, we’re just doing a longevity study, and we’re learning that they don’t leave.
Sue Russell: We studied graduates. We’re doing a three year study. The first year of data, 97% retention.
Chris Riback: That’s quite an investment. That’s an investment that keeps paying off.
Sue Russell: Exactly. Long term. Because once they get their degree, they are embedded in our system. They believe that they are early childhood professionals, and that this is their profession.
Chris Riback: And some of the numbers are just astounding. And correct me if I’ve got any of this wrong, in FY, fiscal year 19, T.E.A.C.H. programs garnered over $40 million to support over 17,000 scholarship recipients.
Sue Russell: That’s correct.
Chris Riback: This represents a 19% increase in funding and scholarship recipients.
Sue Russell: From last year.
Chris Riback: In just one year – 19%. Any investor in the market would love to have a 19% year-over-year increase. How did you do that?
Sue Russell: Well, it’s-
Chris Riback: What do you think’s going on? Why?
Sue Russell: At the National Center, we license and support our T.E.A.C.H. programs in the various states. It’s their job to raise money. And the reason that I think that they’re able to raise more money is because of the outcomes. We’re doing what we say we will do.
Chris Riback: The evidence is there.
Sue Russell: Right, it’s there. And so it’s exciting. We’ve raised, with T.E.A.C.H., Over $540 million since we started, and it’s great to see. We’ve had 165,000 folks in our country get a chance to go to college. And now we see these people everywhere.
Chris Riback: Well, you’re going to have to rent a really big stadium for your reunion.
Sue Russell: Oh yes.
Chris Riback: Sue, thank you. Thank you for coming by the studio, and thank you for the work that you’ve done for all of those graduates.