Following the Research: Commitment to Teachers

Recently, we were covered in Boston Magazine for our commitment to teacher education and compensation as a key to high-quality early childhood. CNS is a local and national leader in this work. In the link here, we share our efforts and the incredible work of our board of directors.  

In 2017-2018, our Board of Directors put Charlestown Nursery School in the best position to recruit and retain the most highly trained teachers. Through innovative organizational structures and strategic allocation of resources, they finalized the most progressive compensation and professional development plan possible. This commitment will attract some of the most sought-after educators in Boston; it will also keep our current teachers at the top of the field. With compensation paired with training dollars toward rich professional opportunities for regular research and study, this investment will ensure that teachers are supported to deliver best practice. 

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Families, 
 
The Board of Directors put Charlestown Nursery School in the best position to recruit and retain the most highly trained teachers. Through innovative organizational structures and strategic allocation of resources, they finalized the most progressive compensation and professional development plan possible. This commitment will attract some of the most sought-after educators in Boston; it will also keep our current teachers at the top of the field. With compensation paired with training dollars toward rich professional opportunities for regular research and study, this investment will ensure that teachers are supported to deliver best practice. 
 
Make no mistake, we are not yet paying teachers at the rate that we wish and this remains the most modest of the teaching professions. However, since even our most expensive peer schools have been at such a low rate, our efforts to offer a living wage, reflective of a starting salary in a public or independent primary school, is noteworthy. 
 
Reaching this multi-year goal required dedication, strategic planning, and innovative business design from our Board and leadership team. The improvements were not the outcome of a surplus; CNS remains a small non-profit that runs at the tightest margins. Our costs still exceed our tuitions, and the pressures of rising rent, health insurance, and other expenses require us to make hard choices.
 
However, in our planning, we have always followed the research and put teacher quality first. With that priority, we have decided to be lean in our facility, our administration, and our organization. We have also decided to pay teachers and administrators on the same salary scale as well as utilize the skills of generous parent volunteers to cooperatively manage our goals. The result is that for the same cost per child, we can have co-teachers rather than assistants, we can offer more professional coaching and we can compensate teachers at a living wage. 
 
Aside from the obvious organizational benefits of attracting and rewarding the most talented educators, this commitment is also driven by the early childhood education research. Every study connects quality to the level of continued training of the classroom teachers. It is never the playdough or playground that make the difference. It is the teaching and learning that a teacher scaffolds around each individual child. It is the language that teachers use that increases vocabulary and a growth mindset. It is the choice of process art rather than reproductions. It is the understanding of how skills can be integrated into the emergent curriculum and how to identify early intervention opportunities as well as a new challenge. While the teacher bios of all of our co-teachers and our research notes show that attention to expert educators, time in the classroom, and the learning that is visible through their documentation really highlights what makes our teachers so distinct. 
 
Research shows that teachers need to be experts in their field, as well as intellectuals dedicated to constant learning. They need time to dedicate to research and growth well beyond the moments with children. The value of teacher time has been identified in many research findings from around the globe and comparative conditions by Standford's Center for Opportunity Policy. It is not enough to attract highly trained teachers or to think degrees are the end goal. Schools must commit to constant training and development responsive to each unique group of children every year. In practical terms that were profiled in local news coverage, a pay raise is meaningful to practice.  A teacher waiting tables at night cannot spend evenings reviewing individualized plans for differentiated instruction; a teacher who cannot afford to live within a 50-mile radius of CNS cannot go to a lecture on learning styles, and a teacher who sees no room for advancement will not pursue additional education. We know that we have to create the conditions for teachers to be able to focus on providing the best teaching and learning for your children. At CNS, for every hour that teachers teach, they spend an hour on research and development because we compensate for that time just as public schools would. 
 
To further this research, just last month, the Brookings Institute published a large longitudinal study citing the importance of the top level teaching professionals in early childhood and this week the Massachusetts senate spoke to the impact of low wage workers on quality. Of course, lots of schools are safe and nurturing; however, development gains relies on educators who are specialists in teaching and learning well beyond caretaking. For children to truly realize their full potential at this age, whether it be observing fine art, designing structures, developing strong vocabulary, exploring science, improving literacy, applying math, building a growth mindset or nurturing a sense of empathy, play must be facilitated and guided by carefully trained and intentional planning of outstanding educators. 
 
In the best schools in the world from Finland to Singapore to Reggio Emilia, this research about teachers is core to their practice. In fact, just last month at the NAREA Alternative Narratives conversation at Harvard with Peter Moss, we reviewed this value in the writings from the collection Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emlilia. The Reggio Emilia approach is rooted in the conditions for not only children but also educators. Before Malguzzi articulated the importance of the environment, documentation, parent communication, emergent curriculum and challenging opportunities, he clearly outlined that schools should have co-teachers, coaches for teachers, and substantial research time. Anything less would be inadequate. 
 
James Joseph Heckman, an American economist, and Nobel laureate has provided mathematical models to argue that this is not only a good education, it is also good economics. It is about getting the most return on investment. Unfortunately, low-quality programming with under-trained teachers and little professional training, with additional costs of high turnover and low impact experiences, is also expensive. Public, private and for-profit schools all run at a similar cost per child; however, where they place their income or funding varies, and on average centers are paying teachers at less than $25,000/year and/or below the line for public assistance for their workforce. Too often, schools invest the resources in variables that do not impact results: a large administrative team, or play structures, or real estate. Other times, it is hard to know where the resources go. Well-meaning schools that elect to undercharge for their services to provide modest savings families often do so at the expense of programming. Sometimes teachers do not know how to serve the children in the most developmentally appropriate way and many educational opportunities are missed. Some go as far as to say that low-quality has little value add to a child's growth and everyone agrees that access without quality is not money well spent. 
 
At CNS, we have not figured out some magic formula; however, we remained on a course to make sure the tuition investment is consistent with the research and our open budget shows how our values are reflected in our line items. From the math, we know that for an additional $100/month over the course of 10 months, we can hire an expert to work with teachers so that they offer the latest approach, and offer a teachers salary so that they have a more livable wage. For your children, who already have especially rich experiences at home, there is a particular imperative to take their playful learning to the next level of not only basic skills but true 21st century learning with a collaborative emergent inquiry. By allocating a little more a little more strategically, we can make a big difference in the experience that your children receive. 
 
As parents, ourselves who have paid tuition for our own children, all our Board members and administrators appreciate first hand that high-quality programming is an investment and tuition is a commitment that requires family sacrifice for these critical years of development. We feel responsible to make sure that we use our resources wisely. We know your child only gets this first school experience once, and we recognize our shared priority in the quality of that experience.
 
We are grateful for what CNS provides your children. Thanks to a dedicated forward-thinking Board of Directors and incredible parents, we are realizing the most important elements of the research, and the vision at CNS is pioneering (hopefully encouraging our peer schools to follow our lead). Compensation can never truly express the full value of our educators or the foundational work that happens with children in these early years; however, we never want to take for granted the importance of our teachers, and we never ever want to shortchange your children.
 
We hope you join us in thanking our Board, our teachers and our collective group of families for making the CNS experience so worthwhile. 
 
With gratitude, 
Cady and Kelly
 
 
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