Day Care

Do You Really Need a Degree to Work in Day Care?


Taking care of a child, wrote Meredith Walsh, a Washington, D.C., resident and mother to a 1-year-old daughter, takes patience and a sense of humor. "It does not require a college degree."

Working in D.C. day care, though, will require at least an associate's degree in early childhood education by 2020, if the city's Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) has its way. The mandate was approved by the entity in mid-2016 with little fanfare, but its decision to reconsider the timeline for implementation generated hundreds of pages of public comments from workers and parents like Walsh. That feedback was nearly unanimous in its opposition.

Jill Homan, whose 1-year-old daughter attends a day care program in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is confused by the requirement. If workers lacking a college degree are a threat to children's safety, why let them continue in their current jobs until 2020? And if they're simply lacking a specific skill, why not train them immediately?

Instead, D.C. officials have talked about wanting to place the city on the forefront of "building the profession," meaning that this is the start of a national effort to turn day care centers into more highly professionalized and regulated operations. While Vermont and Pennsylvania have taken small steps in that direction, D.C. is the first place to rush headlong into such a requirement.

The change will almost certainly increase the cost of child care in a city where parents already pay an average of $22,000 annually, making it one of the most expensive places in the nation to have someone look after your youngster. Worse, the mandate will likely force many experienced day care workers—the overwhelming majority of whom are women—out of their jobs, even if they're qualified in every other way.

And will the children be any better off? Not really, according to research from economists at Creighton University and Utah State, who published a paper in 2015 showing that day care regulations focusing on easily observable measures—like mandatory degrees or certifications—generally don't improve the quality of care.

"The city can't legislate the qualities that make a great child care provider," wrote Walsh in her public comment to the OSSE. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it won't try.