T.E.A.C.H.: a strategy to strengthen the ECE workforce

By Mary Graham, Executive Director, Children's Village

A July 16th article by Anya Kamenetz, National Public Radio, Teachers With Student Debt: The Struggle, The Causes And What Comes Next, highlighted the challenges of student debt that thousands of American teachers face each month.  The author collected and analyzed data from more than 2,000 respondents to a Teacher Student Debt survey.  Student debt among teachers was specifically selected as an area of study because of a confluence of current issues, including chronic concerns over low teacher compensation amid calls to improve teacher quality; the rising cost of higher education; the increasing reliance on loans to pay for it; and changing policies from the Trump administration.

Comments from the survey included:

"I am overloaded and struggling. It's terrifying."
"I feel like I'll be making the last payment from my grave."
"It is an albatross around my neck. Years of paying and I feel like I'm getting nowhere."
"Help!"
"My monthly payment is estimated at one-fourth my total income. Even at that rate, I will take more than 10 years to pay off my loans."

Contrast those comments with those gathered from teachers of young children that benefit from the T.E.A.C.H. scholarship:

“I secured employment and received a T.E.A.C.H scholarship, and my life has turned around.  I was able to work to take care of my children while I was going to school. Moreover, I was given time to study and reimbursement for books and travel. These support systems are important to a person like me, who has been on her own since the age of 16 and does not have much of a support system at home. I was the first in my family to even go to college, so I am so proud of myself!”

“As a single parent, I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck and receiving a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship was my ONLY way to accomplish the goal of attaining an Associate’s degree.”

T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education And Compensation Helps) Early Childhood® is a national program of the North Carolina Child Care Services Association designed to help address the need for a well qualified, fairly compensated and stable early childhood education (ECE) workforce.  The T.E.A.C.H. strategy includes five C’s:

-- Comprehensive Scholarships provide support for the ECE workforce to access college courses, certificates, and degrees in early childhood education resulting in no student debt, using a shared cost approach.  

-- College Education requires completion of a specified number of credit hours per contract at a participating college or university coupled with support from T.E.A.C.H. counselors who aid recipients in successfully navigating college processes and finding needed resources to increase core knowledge.

-- Compensation mandates increased compensation through the provision of a bonus and/or a raise for recipients who complete their education in a prescribed period of time to support the economic viability of staff.

-- Commitment establishes a contract between employee, employer, and T.E.A.C.H. that requires the recipient to remain in the sponsoring program for a specified period of time (generally one year) after they receive their education to reduce staff turnover.

-- Counselors support each recipient with a state-based T.E.A.C.H. Counselor able to assist the student in securing a scholarship, navigating the college processes, setting goals, and monitoring progress and needs.

In Pennsylvania, the T.E.A.C.H. program is funded by the Commonwealth via the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, administered by Pennsylvania Child Care Association (PACCA), and includes nearly 25 participating Institutions of Higher Education.  The Fiscal Year 17-18 budget allocates nearly $2.8 million, which is anticipated to fund more than 1,000 scholarships.

In order to be eligible applicants must:

  1. Work approximately 25-30 hours per week directly with children in a DHS-certified child care program participating in Pennsylvania’s Quality Rating Improvement System, Keystone STARS, Head Start or PreK Counts Program;
  2. Earn $19 or less an hour ($25 or less per hour for directors);
  3. Be interested in pursuing coursework at a participating college (at least 9 credits per year) toward a degree or credential in early childhood education. 

Children’s Village is a nationally accredited early childhood education center located in Philadelphia.  Serving more than 450 children ages 13 months to 13 years, Children’s Village has benefited from T.E.A.C.H. scholarships in numerous ways.  Of current staff, 28 of 42 teachers (66%) obtained degrees or are finishing degrees through the T.E.A.C.H. program. 

T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for Children’s Village to attain an extremely high teacher retention rate (95%) as well as add to the diversity of the teaching staff.  Eight of the current 42 teachers (19%) started out as parent volunteers, who were then hired as substitutes and enrolled in T.E.A.C.H.  Of these eight, all are English language learners and speak a variety of other languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujianese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Spanish).  T.E.A.C.H. supported their enrollment in non-credit bearing English language courses, which in turn prepared them to pursue credit-bearing course work through subsequent T.E.A.C.H. scholarships.

Children’s Village used the availability of T.E.A.C.H. scholarships to promote educational degree attainment for staff above minimum levels required by various funding sources and accrediting bodies.  As both a Keystone STAR 4 and NAEYC accredited center, we strive to have staff hold the highest credential possible.  Without T.E.A.C.H., Children’s Village would not have been able to meet this goal.  When Pennsylvania changed regulations to require lead teachers in PA Pre-K Counts-funded classrooms to hold PA Certification in ECE, Children’s Village was already meeting this requirement.  All assistant teachers have a minimum of 18 ECE credits, with most having earned an Associate’s degree in ECE.

The T.E.A.C.H. program is strategically designed to allow teachers of young children to earn advanced degrees without incurring debt.  And while the program targets early childhood education teachers because they typically earn less than those working in the K-12 system, the NPR article makes clear that even teachers in K-12 struggle to make student loan payments.  Perhaps the T.E.A.C.H. program could be used as a model for the development of a national scholarship program for K-12 teachers; one that similarly allows them to earn advanced degrees while working, without incurring debt.  The ongoing education of all teachers is a public benefit and one that should not have to be repaid by individual teachers, given the reality of low compensation in the field of education.

For more information regarding implementation of T.E.A.C.H. and the impact of T.E.A.C.H. at Children’s Village, join Mary Graham’s workshop session at the upcoming Early Childhood Education Summit in State College, PA in mid-October.  Or, register for Mary’s “Growing your Parents and Teachers through T.E.A.C.H.” workshops via the PA Keys PD Registry and receive PQAS credits.  Sessions are held in Philadelphia and are currently scheduled for August 15th from 9a.m.-12noon and October 4th from 9a.m.-12noon.


Mary Graham, Executive Director of Children’s Village in Philadelphia, has a BA in Social Welfare and an MA in ECE.  Having spent her entire 41-year career in the ECE field, Mary has been director at the center for the past 29 years.  She has been involved in the professionalization of the ECE field and is sought after on the local, regional, and national levels to share her expertise, experience, and perspective as a practitioner.  She has served on several boards and advisory committees, including PACCA, the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) and is involved with the National Women’s Law Center Child Care and Early Learning National Advocates Group.  She received her PQAS certification in 2016 and presents professional development in the area of ECE Business and Management issues.