Demographic Characteristics of the Early Care and Education Workforce: Comparisons with Child and Community Characteristics

Publication Date:

February 04, 2021

Cultural competencies and the capacity to provide culturally responsive and relevant experiences in early care and education (ECE) settings are emerging as critically important aspects of provider quality. At the same time, the education field has noted a misalignment between the demographic characteristics of children and those of teachers and caregivers (Boser, 2011). Growing evidence suggests that children benefit when they learn from a demographically similar teacher (Dee, 2005). Teachers and caregivers who reflect children’s race and ethnicity or who speak the language the child hears at home can be beneficial for multiple reasons.

First, evidence from elementary and high school settings suggests that demographically similar teachers have more appropriate expectations for children’s development (Dee, 2007), higher perceptions of children’s performance, and lower rates of inattentiveness and discipline (Dee, 2005; Dee, 2007; Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016). Second, when providers and parents speak the same language, parent engagement and communication increases (Hill & Torres, 2010; Mundt, Gregory, Melzi, & McWayne, 2015). Indeed, racial/ethnic correspondence between teachers and children in Head Start has been found to be associated with greater family engagement and reductions in child absences, especially among Hispanic families (Markovitz, Bassok, & Grissom, 2020). Importantly, disparities in discipline rates and family engagement can be seen during early childhood (Mundt et al., 2015; Skiba, Arrendondo, & Williams, 2014). Given mounting evidence for the importance of demographic similarities between teachers and caregivers and young children in ECE settings, it is important to understand the characteristics of the ECE workforce, broadly, and examine whether ECE professionals are demographically similar to the populations of children who use care in each setting.

Child care teachers and caregivers differ in their access to training, education, and professional development by characteristics that include their race and ethnicity or cultural background (Paschall, Madill, & Halle, 2020). These differences in professional training and preparation, in turn, may contribute to the caregivers’ role (e.g., as lead teacher or assistant), and the type of setting in which they provide care (e.g., school-sponsored center or in their own home). In a companion report, we examined the professional characteristics of the ECE workforce by race and ethnicity, languages spoken, and nativity status (Paschall, Madill, & Halle, 2020). Findings indicated that teachers and caregivers who were non-Hispanic White and teachers and caregivers who spoke only English were more likely to have bachelor’s degrees than Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, or Spanish-speaking teachers and caregivers; however, proportionally more Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and Spanish-speaking teachers participated in professional development compared to their non-Hispanic White and English only-speaking colleagues.

Furthermore, findings illuminated differences in demographic characteristics by setting and center program sponsor. Specifically, one in five home-based teachers and caregivers spoke a language other than English when working with children, and one in six were born outside the United States; meanwhile, one in ten center-based teachers and caregivers spoke a language other than English or were born outside the United States. In addition, Head Start centers—compared with centers funded by schools, public pre-K, or private centers—had the lowest proportions of non-Hispanic White teachers and caregivers and the highest proportions of non-Hispanic Black teachers and caregivers. These findings illustrate that teachers and caregivers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and those who speak various languages are not equally distributed across education levels or care settings.

Even if teachers and caregivers of different racial and ethnic, linguistic, and nativity backgrounds were equally available across child care settings, not all families have equal access to high-quality child care arrangements, and families differ in their needs and preferences for care (Friese, Lin, Forry, & Tout, 2017). Furthermore, there is growing recognition in the field that children benefit when their teachers and caregivers share similar demographic characteristics (Dee, 2005; Dee, 2007; Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016). Therefore, it is important to understand how the demographic characteristics of children in different care types, both home-based and center-based, compare to the demographic characteristics of the teachers and caregivers employed in each setting type.

This analysis uses the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), a nationally representative set of integrated surveys of ECE providers and households with young children, to understand, at a national level, the demographic diversity of the ECE workforce in relation to the children and communities they serve. Findings compare populations of ECE providers to populations of young children, as well as populations of ECE providers across communities with varying levels of demographic diversity.