and unpaid. The term “early childhood care and education” is inclusive of all these arrangements.
Policy-maker and public perception of ECCE is frequently at odds with the weighty responsibilities of this workforce, who influence so many facets of children’s development both in the short and long terms (Karoly et al., 2005). As the authors of From Neurons to Neighborhoods concluded:
The time is long overdue for society to recognize the significance of out-of-home relationships for young children, to esteem those who care for them when their parents are not available, and to compensate them adequately as a means of supporting stability, and quality in these relationships for all children, regardless of their families’ income and irrespective of their developmental needs. (NRC and IOM, 2000, p. 7)
Ten years since the publication of that report, most teachers and caregivers continue to receive low wages and to have low status, and are often described as “babysitters” or as “watching” children. Teachers in publicly funded preschool settings have fared somewhat better, but even these positions are viewed as low-status roles compared with elementary and secondary educators. The results of these circumstances include high turnover and few career opportunities in the field (Kagan et al., 2008).
The primary purpose of the early care or educational setting plays a role in shaping the perceptions and expectations for the workforce. Bellm and Whitebook (2006) describe two types of ECCE services—those with an educational focus and those whose primary function is to provide a safe setting that meets the basic needs of children of working parents. These purposes shape the terminology that describes the workforce (e.g., teachers versus caregivers), as well as policies and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels (Bellm and Whitebook, 2006).
Real differences between settings on degree of focus on educational goals relative to caring for children’s basic needs exist. However, opportunities to nurture healthy development and early learning occur in all of these settings, and some argue that children in all settings should experience effective practices regardless of the primary purpose of the care arrangement (NAEYC, 2009). Some have also argued that a workforce that can implement research-based practices is essential, not only because these high-quality experiences are beneficial to children, but also more importantly because the low-quality experiences that are so prevalent actually can harm children’s development and contribute to a widening achievement gap prior to kindergarten (Pianta et al., 2009).
These practices include providing a rich environment and nurturing care, teaching in an intentional manner, and making effective decisions in creative and appropriate ways (Hamre and Pianta, 2005; NAEYC, 2009;