Understanding Facilitators and Barriers to Professional Development Use Among the Early Care and Education Workforce

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodNov 4 2020

The goal of early care and education (ECE) professional development (PD) is to increase the knowledge, skills, and abilities of teachers are caregivers to improve child and family outcomes (Sheridan et al., 2009). A growing body of research suggests that factors at the individual, program, and system levels are important for determining whether an individual ECE teacher or caregiver will participate in PD activities. Federal, state, and local systems are responsible for structuring and coordinating PD efforts, often on very constrained resources. These leaders are looking for ways to maximize limited resources for PD by targeting supports where they will be most effective. It is also important for teachers and caregivers to have PD opportunities that are accessible and meaningful to them and their professional learning. This report describes the ways in which individual characteristics and factors at the program and system levels are associated with individual teachers’ and caregivers’ participation in PD in a nationally representative sample of ECE teachers and caregivers.

Primary research questions

  1. How common is the use of PD opportunities among center-based and home-based teachers and caregivers? (descriptive)
  2. What individual characteristics and program- or system-level factors were associated with participation in PD activities? (multivariate)
  3. What individual characteristics and program-level factors were associated with a teacher or caregiver receiving financial support for their professional development? (multivariate)


We report and discuss new analyses of the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) that explore how often, and under what conditions, center-based and home-based ECE teachers and caregivers participate in PD activities. We drew upon existing literature to inform the selection of characteristics and factors to incorporate into multivariate models, which included demographic characteristics such as race/ethnicity, language, and immigrant status.1 Finally, we discuss implications for federal and state agencies overseeing PD systems for ECE teachers and caregivers.


The research team conducted a review of recent peer-reviewed and “gray” research literature to identify individual characteristics and program- and system-level factors that have been associated with PD participation among ECE professionals. The research team then used the NSECE (a nationally representative survey conducted in 2012) to describe teachers’ and caregivers’ participation in PD and to explore individual-, program-, and system-level factors (noted in the literature or identified by the research team) that may be associated with individuals’ participation.

Key findings and highlights

  • Center-based and home-based teachers and caregivers2 most frequently reported participating in workshops in the past year (88% and 80%, respectively), out of all PD opportunities. Many also participated in coaching (32%; 37%) and/or college courses (32%; 28%) in the past year. Rates of participation in these three types of PD were similar among teachers and caregivers working in center- or home-based settings.
  • Among the center-based workforce, participation in specific PD opportunities was related to several individual characteristics and program-level factors. For instance, level of education was associated with participation in coaching (higher odds among teachers and caregivers with bachelor’s degrees) and with college course enrollment (higher odds among teachers and caregivers holding associate’s degrees). Teachers’ or caregivers’ race and ethnicity were associated with participating in workshops (lower odds for Hispanic teachers and caregivers than for non-Hispanic White teachers and caregivers) and college courses (higher odds for non-Hispanic Black teachers and caregivers than non-Hispanic White teachers and caregivers). Immigrant teachers and caregivers working in centers had lower odds of participating in coaching than U.S.-born teachers. Finally, those who received financial support such as scholarships were the most likely to report taking a college course in the past year.
  • Among the home-based workforce, financial support was a significant predictor of three of the four PD participation outcomes (workshops, college courses, and hours of PD). Years expected to remain in the ECE field (a proxy for professional orientation and career commitment) emerged as a consistent correlate of participating in PD. Race and ethnicity of home-based teachers and caregivers were also associated with three of the four PD participation outcomes. Holding other factors constant, Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black home-based teachers and caregivers participated in more PD than their non-Hispanic White counterparts.
  • Finally, center-based teachers’ and caregivers’ receipt of financial support for PD was associated with one system-level factor (working at a center with Head Start funding), one program-level factor (caring for children from birth to age 5 relative to caring for preschool-age only), and one individual characteristic of the teacher or caregiver (those holding a bachelor’s degree had higher odds than those with lower levels of education; and non-Hispanic Black teachers and caregivers had lower odds than non-Hispanic White teachers and caregivers of receiving financial support for PD). Among home-based teachers and caregivers, age and language(s) spoken influenced receipt of financial support for participation in PD activities.

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.