QUALITYstarsNY is one of three early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) profiled in a new report series, Teachers’ Voices, published this week by Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at UC Berkeley. The series explores early childhood teachers’ work conditions that impact adult well-being and program quality, through the lens of a QRIS, which have been adopted in 44 states, including New York.

To better understand the work environment issues that play a role in early childhood program quality, QUALITYstarsNY collaborated with CSCCE to conduct a study of teachers and administrators in centers participating in QUALITYstarsNY across New York State. The resulting report by CSCCE captures successes and continued opportunity for QUALITYstarsNY to promote positive work environments, while also shining a light on the persistent challenges facing the early learning workforce.

The report notes that New York is one of only three states’ QRIS that is making headway in the area of early learning work environment, according to CSCCE’s 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index. The state’s progress is due to the inclusion of several positive work environment indicators in the QUALITYstarsNY Standards for high quality early childhood programs. QUALITYstarsNY Standards encourage programs to provide staff with paid professional development and planning time, adequate benefits, paid time off for holidays and vacation, as well as salary schedules. Points are also awarded toward a program’s Star Rating for having higher rates of staff retention.

Findings from the report suggest several areas in which QUALITYstarsNY successfully reflects and encourages supportive work environments through its ratings and quality improvement work with programs. “Teaching staff working in higher-rated programs tended to assess their work environments more positively,” according to the key findings of the report. Moreover, teaching staff in sites with the highest rating of Five Stars had overall higher scores in the study—reflecting a more supportive and positive work environment.

“We are encouraged to see our highest-rated, Five-Star programs provide the supports and positive work environments early childhood teachers need to nurture and educate New York’s youngest learners,” said Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute.

It is clear from the report, however, that there is still significant work to be done to address the critical challenges faced by the early childhood workforce. Inadequate wages for early childhood teachers is a well-documented trend that is reinforced by the findings of this report. A majority of teaching staff who participated in the study indicated that they struggle with meeting their general monthly expenses, such as food, housing, or health care expenses. Additionally, insufficient staffing and difficulties with paid professional development were identified as workplace concerns for approximately half of teaching staff respondents in the study.

“QUALITYstarsNY will continue to reflect on these findings to identify opportunities to support more positive work environments for early childhood teachers,” said QUALITYstarsNY Director Leslie Capello. “We hope policymakers and stakeholders in the early learning community will join us to help address the persistent issues impacting New York State’s early childhood workforce.”

On behalf of the QUALITYstarsNY team, we’d like to extend our sincere thanks and gratitude to all the teachers and administrators who participated in this study to provide critical insights into today’s work environment landscape for early learning educators across New York State.