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Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado

Children playing with a parachute at school during pe in the North East of England. A boy is running underneath it.
Supporting recruitment and retention of highly qualified early care and education workers
  • Client
    Early Milestones Colorado; University of Colorado, Denver
  • Dates
    2016 - 2017


Colorado communities struggle to hire and keep talented early childhood workers.

Several decades of research have established the importance of high-quality early care and education (ECE) for children's short- and long-term social, emotional, and academic outcomes and pointed to ECE’s critical role in narrowing the educational achievement gap. Knowledgeable and skilled early educators are one of the most important factors in high-quality ECE, yet many communities throughout Colorado are struggling to attract and retain a well-qualified early educator workforce.


NORC studied the strengths, weaknesses, and views of the workforce serving young children.

Early Milestones Colorado, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services and the Colorado Department of Education, spearheaded the Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado project to develop strategies to support and retain a well-qualified ECE workforce. In collaboration with Early Milestones Colorado and the University of Colorado, Denver, NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a study in 2016 - 2017 to identify the strengths, gaps, and unmet needs in the workforce. The mission was to inform workforce recruitment, retention, and professional development.

This study included a survey of 4,223 directors, assistant directors, teachers, and assistant teachers who worked in community-based ECE centers, Head Start centers, and public school-based ECE classrooms throughout Colorado—organizations that served children from birth through age five. The survey also canvassed 496 family child care providers who provided home-based ECE services. The survey aimed to:

  • Describe providers’ basic demographic, educational, and workplace characteristics
  • Identify barriers experienced in accessing professional development and higher education
  • Understand personal, workplace, and policy factors associated with job turnover and early educator well-being

The research team staff calculated descriptive statistics to provide an overview of the characteristics of the ECE provider workforce, aspects of the settings in which they work, providers’ perceptions of their work lives and well-being, and providers’ perceptions of barriers to higher education and professional development. NORC further developed linear regression models to identify factors that predict turnover, early educator well-being indices, and early educators’ intentions to keep or leave their jobs.


The study informed Colorado’s effort to improve early childhood education.

Among the findings:

  • Approximately 62 percent of directors, 54 percent of lead teachers, and 26 percent of family child care providers had at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Centers that enrolled children receiving Colorado Child Care Assistance Program subsidies were more likely to employ non-degreed teachers than centers that did not enroll children.
  • Turnover rates varied by job role and ranged from 16 percent to 40 percent, with the highest turnover in paraprofessional roles and in community-based and Head Start programs.
  • Low teacher morale, excessive paperwork, a punitive work environment, and large staff-to-child ratios predicted greater occupational burnout among teachers.
  • More collaborative leadership, higher wages, and more workplace benefits predicted teachers’ intentions to remain in their jobs.

The findings provided much-needed information about the state of the ECE workforce in Colorado and can help Colorado policymakers develop policies and infrastructure to promote a well-prepared, well-supported, and thriving ECE workforce.

Principal Investigator

Principal Research Scientist

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