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Jan Resseger describes the crisis of early childhood education in this post.
The importance of early childhood education for healthy development has been repeatedly documented, most recently by the Learning Policy Institute. Yet the sector continues to be underfunded, teachers are underpaid, and they are in short supply.
The kind of enriched child care envisioned by experts at the Learning Policy Institute does not exist, however, for most American families, particularly as problems have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week the Washington Post‘s Heather Long reported: “The numbers are staggering: The child-care services industry is still down 126,700 workers—more than a 10 percent decline from pre-pandemic levels, Labor Department data shows. While many industries complain they can’t find enough workers, the hiring situation is more dire in child-care than in restaurants right now. Young women in their late teens and 20s who are typically drawn to work at the day care centers are opting instead to take jobs as administrative assistants, retail clerks, and bank tellers… Veteran child-care workers are quitting… More than 10,000 workers have left the industry since June…. “
And for the NY Times, last week Claire Cain Miller provided examples from across the country: “At a Y.M.C.A. in San Antonio, 200 children are on wait lists for child care because of hiring problems. It raised average hourly pay for full-time workers to $12.50 from $10, but still can’t recruit enough teachers to meet the demand. In Ann Arbor, Mich., the school district had announced it was shutting down its after-school program. It managed to hire people to open at five of 20 elementary schools, those most in need, but that left out at least 1,000 children. And in Portland, Ore., preschool spots are few and far between, and elementary schools are running after-school care at limited capacity or have canceled programs altogether… Child care providers face challenges like those in many other service industries that are unable to find enough workers—low pay and little job stability. The median hourly pay is $12, and 98 percent of occupations pay more… Turnover is high in early childhood education, and jobs caring for school-aged children are only a few hours a day and often end in the summer… Some people are hesitant to work with unvaccinated children.”
Actually it is surprising to see major coverage of child care problems in the nation’s two biggest newspapers. The coverage last week was most likely a response to a new report released from the Department of the Treasury, published to push the child care investments—which President Biden has proposed and which Congress is currently debating—as part of the federal budget reconciliation package. The Treasury Department’s new report describes the problem clearly and concisely: “The child care sector is a crucial and underfunded part of the American economy. One in every 110 U.S. workers—and one in every 55 working women—makes a living in early childhood education and care. Parents of young children devote a sizeable share of their total income to child care. Children benefit enormously from high quality early childhood settings that nurture and support healthy development, all the while laying the foundation for future success by supporting early learning skills. An extensive body of research describes large potential economic returns to investments in early childhood education and care for preschool children, especially for children from less advantaged families… This report describes the existing child care system in the United States, which relies on private financing to provide care for most children, and documents how this system fails to adequately serve many families.”
Most childcare facilities are run by private agencies. Most American families cannot afford them. President Biden included a major boost for early childhood education, but the fate of his funding program hangs in the balance.