Tot-size paychecks

April 29, 1996|By Maryalice Yakutchik

As increasing numbers of mothers with young children enter the work force, the demand for good preschools continues to rise -- and so does the demand for good preschool teachers. But that hasn't translated into higher salaries for preschool teachers.

Public school kindergarten and elementary grade teachers -- none of whom are overpaid -- make up to three times as much as comparably trained preschool teachers, says Barbara Willer, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

"Preschool teachers know that people who park cars get compensated better than they do," says Barbara Beatty, an associate professor of education at Wellesley College and author of "Preschool Education in America."

One reason salaries are so low: 92 percent of preschool teachers work in the private sector. Although many public school systems, including those in Baltimore and Baltimore County, have begun adding prekindergarten classes to their elementary schools, the expansion has been extremely slow because of the costs.

So most children who go to preschool (65 percent of 4-year-olds and 41 percent of 3-year-olds, according to the National Center for Education Statistics) are in private programs that charge tuition. Most private preschools just can't afford to pay their teachers what they're worth.

Preschool teachers have always been paid a pittance. In the early days of the kindergarten and nursery school movements in the 1920s, teachers considered their occupation to be a "calling from on high," Professor Beatty explains, adding, "There was almost a distrust of women who did want money to teach young children."

The work wasn't done for money, she says, it was done for love.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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