Tis the eve of Worthy Wage Day

“Worthy Work – Worthy Wages”

When Worthy Wage Day was born, I was teaching and directing a child care program and since I was stumped as to how pay any of us teachers a  remotely living wage, I found Marcy Whitebook’s work which confirmed what I suspected.  The system is rigged against fair teacher wages – and not by anyone who was making money off of them.  (Except I still can’t see how corporate programs pay stockholders when they should be paying teachers).  The free market system doesnt work in the child care ‘business’ because the only source of revenue is from parents who dont have the resources to pay for the services they receive, the “full cost of quality” is a secret, paid for by teachers.

I like to imagine what life would be like if I went to my doctor and he said I needed XYZ and it would cost $5000.00.  And I looked at him pitifully and invoking his love of my general well being I said plaintively “but I only have $2000.00.  please, sir, could you just take what I can offer?  its for something so important and you care about it too – please?  pretty please?” And I can hear the doctor saying with a sigh,  “Okay”.       Ain’t gonna happen, right?  But that is precisely what the dynamics are in the child care “industry”.  And who is it that pays for the missing $3000.00?  The doctor/teacher who provides the service for less than it cost the doctor/teacher.  Its a loss.  I know a child care teacher who provides the parents of the children in her class a receipt for the thousands of dollars of her “forgone wages” that she has essentially donated to the families.

To those of us in early childhood, there is nothing new here – we have been singing this sad song for well over 30 years.  The stunning part is that absolutely nothing has changed.  We saw early childhood rise from “day care” to the President’s budget.  We have learned to appreciate the seriousness of very young children’s experiences and their effect over their lifetimes.  We have state early learning standards and QRIS systems and conferences at the White House and national gatherings of the experts and we have learned important things that help us serve our children better – we are better teachers of literacy and language, of dual language learners, of the importance of play and the role of instruction, of outdoor learning and social emotional self regulation.  We understand better the role of teacher child interactions, of authentic parent engagement, of cultural and linguistically competent responsive teaching – have I missed anything?  We now do all this and early childhood teachers are not making any more than they did 30 odd years ago.  http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/cscce/2014/report-worthy-work-still-unlivable-wages/    What a deal!!!   What a disgrace.

How is this possible?  What the hell is the problem? Ok, well we know what the problem is.  Why the hell have we not addressed it?!  We have tinkered around the edges of the child care system trying to improve quality, measure quality, motivate quality, bribe quality education for children and on the backs of teachers making $9.57/hour in my state.  That is $19, 140 a year for teachers of infants through three year olds.  If the teacher has 2 children or a husband and 1 child she is below the federal poverty guidlines. The mean income in my state is $46,000/year.  If this teacher teaches four yr olds in a place that calls them preschoolers, she may make $12.27 an hour.  A teacher of five yr olds (aka kindergarten teacher) makes $19.96/hour, over $40,000 a year.  And SHE deserves more!

This is the definition of cognitive dissonance.  It is a social and economic justice issue.  It is about gender, race, class and a perfect storm of isms to marginalize.  We have doomed teachers to two paths – follow their commitment to young children and live in poverty or leave the field and go almost anywhere else.  Like groom dogs.  or park cars.  If we dont care about the teachers, where is our responsibility to the children these teachers are “raising” in full day programs?

So while this is a familiar rant, my outrage, wrath and anger increase every year.   The answer is a public will to commit federal and state dollars to adequately fund a system that properly cares and educates all children, doesnt reduce their teachers to a life in poverty and doesnt rob young parents of their economic security.   This is not rocket science.  This is about rights and justice.

Thank you to my sheroes Rosemarie and Peggy and Deb and Deb and Margie and Marcy and Peg and Gretchen and Angie and Lori and Ann and the hundreds of Worthy Wagers around the country who have been fighting for this for years.  Lets drum up even more momentum with a Twitter Storm /http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/cscce/2015/worthy-wage-day-twitter-storm/ this May 1st – the 22nd Worthy Wage Day!  I will be marching with my sisters (and few brothers!) again!

If this doesnt do it, then all we can do is…..strike!?


Tis the eve of Worthy Wage Day

Why people don’t change – even when we ask nicely.

A common vexing theme emerged from a recent conversation with TA (technical assistance) colleagues.

(A side bar about our fields’ ridiculous – or telling –  inability to hone in on a common-sense descriptive job title. Last I counted there were 17 names for people who were doing the same job – “improving” child care. I propose Mediaries – “those who bring help and knowledge to others”. Prometheus brought fire to mankind as a mediary.)

Sometimes its hard to just pick one soapbox at a time.

So we were talking about how fruitless it is when people assume we can make child care teachers and/or directors change their behavior.  Non-field people are perplexed when we cannot produce the results that are expected.  It seems so much easier than it is.   It reminded me of what we already know about behavior being an expression of values, identity and emotions. If a child care provider is doing just fine – by her definition – then why on earth is she going to subject herself to the stress and work of making changes? I love using the medical pain chart as my change-o-meter.

here is how to read this chart for medical purposes, italics are for righting child care purposes.

—0-1: Very little or barely noticeable pain.

I love my kids and my kids love me.

—2-3: Pain is present, but you may have to stop and think about it to really tell if it is there or gone. You seem just fairly comfortable.

If someone asks me I remember how hard my job is and how little I get paid.

—4-5: You now notice your pain, perhaps at rest or during activity. It may interfere with your activities. Level “4“ is the level at which it is a good idea to start introducing some avenues of relief.

Now my children are sick and I dont have paid sick days. How in the world will I pay my bills?

6-7: Your pain is distracting you, but you may —be able to focus on something else rather than the pain for a short period of time. You may be “gritting your teeth” to carry out activities.

Back at work pretending those three unpaid days at home with my children didnt happen because I cant do anything about it. But Johnnny is on my last nerve in this class today. I am going to tell his mother she has to start having consequences at home for his bad behavior! And these kids dont listen at clean up anymore and I dont get paid enough to clean up this mess. (This would be a very good time to call in a TA – I mean, a mediary.)

8-9: Your pain may be severe enough that it makes you stop in the middle of an activity, or not be able to complete it at all. It is difficult to think of anything else but your pain at this level. You may be uncomfortable even during rest or quiet times

I am so frustrated with my co-workers and director – we need to talk! I think I will bring this up with my assistant at naptime and on the playground. And maybe on Facebook.  This place is just unfair.

—10: Your pain is now the worst you can imagine. It is important to remember that the best way to treat the pain is to stay ahead of its increasing intensity, and to maintain a regular schedule of pain relief. Do not wait for Level “10” before you discuss options with your healthcare provider.

Quitting or firing is imminent.

Final thought – what stage of pain do you want YOUR child’s teacher to be in?  This is about the professional adult work environment, social and economic justice AND the welfare of young children.


Basically, if we show up at the child care home or center and they are at a pain level of 3-5 they have no reason to let us in the door. Unless we are bringing incentives or a threat, we cannot be surprised when they are not enthusiastic about our advice! What’s a mediary to do? Look for the underlying stress/discomfort and target our initial efforts to relieve that. Thats how we build those relationships that move the rest of the “righting” forward. If we are lucky and the stars and planets are aligned

Why people don’t change – even when we ask nicely.

another metaphor: Quality Soup

One of the mistakes that we have been forced to make has been the application of only some strategies that we were able to resource or were the current fad of a focus of policy. This, of course, at the expense of a systemic approach that acknowledges the complex and multi-dimensional nature of child care.  Thus the results have been often superficial, tinkering, fleeting and unsustainable changes, though sometimes they succeeded as first steps.  But as long as we refuse to face and tackle the complexity, we will not right the child care system.  The somewhat silly metaphor of a quality “soup” speaks to the necessary variety of the ingredients and the adjustments that reflect local resources and priorities – but “low hanging fruit” does not make a hearty soup.  Children need the real thing to thrive. And we have a lot of hungry American children.

quality soup v3 - New PageImpossibly complicated to visualize, here is the recipe for Quality Soup.  You can tinker with the amounts but all the basic ingredients have to be there in some measure.

  • Teacher Compensation commensurate with public school teachers
  • High quality Teacher Education
  • Cultural Competence
  • Authentic Child Assessment
  • Curriculum
  • Applying knowledge to Practice through Coaching and Communities of Practice
    • Generalist or child development
    • Specific content knowledge (infant-toddler, DLLs)
  • Classroom Structure  (e.g. ratio, group sizes)
  • Skilled and supportive adminstrators
    • leadership
    • management
    • supports for a professional working environment (e,g, sick leave, paid planning time, health insurance)
  • Family Engagement




Connecting new dots – that are really obvious.

Two science articles caught my eye yesterday.  The first tells us that scientists have learned that children in poverty have 6% lesser brain surface mass than children who live in affluence.   (As aside – the “framing” of this article is so offensive to me with the use of the word “sad” speaking volumes about the author isnt thinking about any children they actually KNOW).  If this is the case – along with the evidence that children experiencing the toxic stress of poverty develop less than their potential working memory (as in what they most need to get good grades in school) then we are seeing the emergence of compelling scientific evidence that should transcend any American meme about how people get what they earn and that people just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  Now those arguments must be silenced because – of course! – no one will knowingly place little children in situations that effect their brain development, condemning them for all time to a less-than status in our society.  No one would do that knowing what we know.  Right?   Stay tuned!

Brain development and poverty

But wait! There is hope! The second article is how -even when children are living in toxic stress poverty – their outcomes are greatly improved with the care and attention of at least one nurturing adult – say, like a child care teacher????    Science of Resilience

So knowing this, we would want to optimize the potential for that adult “rescue” relationship to be available for children in poverty, right?  We would make sure that that adult wasnt also drowning in the toxic stress of poverty and a high stakes, high demand job.  We would ensure that children had reasonable access to one-on-one time with such a powerful intervention so the ratios and group sizes of child care classes would be predicated on optimizing that relationship.  And when we had to weigh the costs of such high quality child care with the social costs of  lives cast by poverty, then we would see what Heckman and others have been patiently explaining.   If you do not sow in the spring, you will not reap in the autumn” – a profound Irish proverb (!)  I joke about profound but apparently we can’t connect these simple cause and effects.  Maybe we really do need the simplistic framing of common sense to wake us up to the Law of the Harvest.


Connecting new dots – that are really obvious.

Righting Child Care – a call to serious dialogue

A Personal Major Sea Change

When my grandaughter was being eagerly awaited, her parents were already planning for how they would balance their work and family hopes and dreams.  They started talking about “day care” and I heard myself immediately say – not my grand child!

This is my chosen field for my entire working life.  I live and breathe this work.  Was I really saying that deep down I found it so flawed that my grandaughter was to be exempt? Feeling like a hypocrite, like a traitor to the hard working women and men I care about, I had to do some serious soul-searching.  And I learned I wasnt alone.  At this point in my career, applying bandaids, short term fixes, propping up the system, slapping on new labels and reaching only for “low hanging fruit” is no longer strategic.  We simply must stop tolerating the tinkering and face the major work.

Righting Child Care

Like a ship that is off balance, the child care system is not working well. Not for children, Not for teachers. and not for parents. It needs to be “corrected” by shifting parts until we acheive the “right” balance. Balance doesnt mean compromising parts in this context. it means finding “right action” for children, families and teachers. The “correct” amount of whatever element we are considering: time. education. money. love. power. attention. and more of course.

This weekly blog will be thoughts and reflections on what we need to do to make child care “right”. It is an open invitation to dialogue, not a monologue.  All of us and our perspectives, all are the pieces of the system and part of the vessel that needs “righting”. The QRIS, state regulations, teacher wages, children’s need for relationship and the effects of group sizes. This is big and messy and …. classic systems work. I worry that we have been misguided in much of our “quality improvement” efforts.  We are still doing things “to” people when all the while we are active participants in tipping the system too. Where are teachers and directors and parents at the leadership table driving policy and initiatives?  We need deep reflection and honest dialogue to consider what really needs to happen. Maybe this grand social experiment we call “child care” is a failure? But it does work in parts of Europe. Maybe Americans just refuse to make it a priority so it chronically suffers from inadequate funding and low respect. And why would we tolerate American children being put in such a compromising and careless system?  Its way past time – a generation past time. We must get this right finally.


Righting Child Care – a call to serious dialogue