Advancing ECE Workforce Compensation and Equity: Key Conditions for a National Lead Teacher Certification


In 2019, the Early Educator Investment Collaborative (The Collaborative) commissioned a nationwide feasibility study to assess the viability of a national, competency-based certification for lead teachers working with children from birth to 8 years old in the United States. Many in the ECE field have long considered the creation of a nationally transferable advanced certification that would recognize the knowledge and skills of lead teachers as well as equip them with accessible training and education. The Collaborative set out to assess stakeholder interest in developing such a certification by enlisting the Council for Professional Recognition (The Council) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to research the feasibility of (i.e., demand and support for) a national lead teacher certification (NLTC). Together, The Council and NBPTS produced “Elevating the ECE Educator Workforce: A Feasibility Study on the Viability of a National ECE Lead Teacher Certification.”*

While the COVID-19 pandemic soon forced The Collaborative to put the study’s research on hold as we shifted to rapid response grants to respond to the sector’s urgent needs, we are now very pleased to share this summary of the study’s results.


The national study of more than 4400 stakeholders in ECE indicates a strong demand for addressing compensation and equity issues in the field as first steps toward a national lead teacher certification (NLTC) that increased pay for educators.

  • Compensation. When stakeholders were asked to identify the most significant challenges to implementing an NLTC, they consistently highlighted three dimensions: cost, time commitment, and staff coverage. Some interviewees believed that addressing compensation concerns for all early childhood educators was necessary not only to facilitate the conditions for an eventual NLTC, but also to tackle existing inequities within the field. The low perceived value of a certification without accompanying assurances of increased compensation and other benefits was also raised. On average, over half (56%) of surveyed stakeholders reported that resultant increased pay would need to be a feature for the system to be feasible.
  • Equity. During interviews, nearly all participants expressed concerns related to equity, particularly regarding equitable access, support and outcomes associated with an NLTC. Stakeholders raised questions about the potential effects of an NLTC in a field characterized by systemic racism and existing structural barriers. Concerns were voiced that the certification may primarily benefit white, advantaged teachers, exacerbating existing stratification within the ECE workforce and pushing out teachers of color.

For a full summary of the study results and implications, download the Study Brief.

“Let’s win infrastructure, let’s win investment, let’s win compensation, let’s address inequities and then we can think about diversifying the ways in which our educators and the teachers can choose to specialize or to deepen their course of practice.”

—Study participant


The feasibility study’s results strongly support The Collaborative’s contention that addressing the compensation and equity challenges of today’s ECE landscape are crucial to providing recognition for the work of early childhood educators. The Collaborative believes that professional compensation should be linked to professional competencies—but recognizes the systemic barriers to participating in certification programs until immediate needs such as a living wage, healthcare and paid time off are met.

The study’s key outcome is The Collaborative renewing its commitment to achieve increased compensation for ECE workers. By advocating for professional wages, The Collaborative aims to create an environment that supports the professional growth and success of all ECE educators—ultimately laying the foundation for a national certification program that ensures quality education for all our youngest learners.



The Collaborative encourages national, state and local partners to work to address the structural barriers to ECE workforce preparation and increased compensation through continued strategic actions.

National, state and local policy makers can advance greater investments in the workforce, including scholarships for early educators to access higher education, loan forgiveness efforts, tax credits for early childhood educators, and universal pay increases.

Institutions of higher education should expand equitable access to higher education programs, including alternative course locations, times, and offerings and support for students with limited English proficiency and different learning needs.

State and local governments may leverage and implement innovative financing approaches centered on the use of multiple funding streams to fund high-quality ECE and increased compensation, including the use of atypical funds, one-time competitive grant funds, education funds, and new revenue.

State and local governments need to develop new financial mechanisms, including the systematic use of contracts rather than child care assistance vouchers, and moving from a market rate based approach to calculating the cost of early childhood education services, tousing a true cost care model with equitable compensation levels

Early childhood employers may support paid release time for staff to access professional development and higher education courses, support high-quality, clinically based practicum and induction experiences at their sites, and partner with local apprenticeship programs to encourage staff attainment of higher credentials.

Parents, caregivers and organizers must advocate for greater public investment in order to increase compensation for the workforce.

Messaging Toolkit

We are excited to share learnings from this study to inform next steps and support strategic investments in workforce compensation, benefits, and advancing equity for early childhood educators in the United States. The Collaborative developed a messaging toolkit to support our partners who are interested in sharing key findings of the study.

We invite you to share the results of the study with your networks using the social media copy, downloadable graphics, and other resources outlined in the toolkit.




Suggested Citation: Early Educator Investment Collaborative. (2023). Advancing ECE Workforce Compensation and Equity: Key Conditions for a National Lead Teacher Certification.


*To access the full study reports, please contact The Collaborative: info@earlyedcollaborative.org