National Profile

The early childhood education field has not defined national standards for the various roles practitioners play in the workforce. While the field is moving towards an acceptance of the BA in early childhood education as the standard for lead teachers, there is less agreement about the requisite competencies and education of program leaders. Instead, federal and state regulatory systems have created a wide array of standards for individuals leading programs for children, birth through age eight. Professional preparation standards for elementary school principals are consistently more robust than those for early childhood program directors. While the vast majority of states require elementary school principals to have a graduate degree in education, only one state, New Jersey, requires a licensed center director to have a bachelor’s degree. However, this requirement applies only if the program serves more than 30 children. Advancements in standards for administrators of child care programs, primarily seen in voluntary state QRIS and state-funded Pre-K, have not led to substantial improvements in the basic qualifications of most early childhood program administrators. It is notable that no state scored higher than a 6 on the overall policy levers rubric. However, the growing number of higher education degree programs in early childhood administration and specialized ECE leadership academies is an encouraging development.



There are over 250,000 early childhood administrators in the United States distributed as follows:

  • Early Childhood Program Directors – 64,0003
  • Elementary School Principals – 75,7604
  • Family Child Care Providers – 145,7215

Scanning for national-level data on early childhood administrators highlighted the differences in data collection and reporting systems between pre-K–12 schools and those of early childhood programs serving children birth to age five. The National Center for Education Statistics report on more than 115,000 school principals by sector and school level.3 However, the development of a centralized system for collecting data on center-based program directors and family child care providers is in an early stage with inconsistent progress across states. The dataset from the National Workforce Registry Alliance is only able to report data from nine states that meet PER standards. Therefore, demographic information found in the Clearinghouse is available on a sample of 9,226 early childhood administrators from the child care sector.



Administrator Credentials

A total of 40 credential programs for early childhood program administrators, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, were identified from the national scan.7 Nineteen states did not offer a credential. Also, there are three national director credentials available. One half of the early childhood administrator credential programs are tiered, based on criteria such as general education; specialized college credit or professional development training in early childhood education; specialized college credit or professional development training in administration, management, or leadership; and varied lengths of experience. Ten programs (25%) require a minimum of an associate degree to be eligible for a credential. Twenty-five programs (63%) require college credit hours in early childhood education in at least one level of the credential. Twenty-three programs (58%) require college credit hours in administration, management, or leadership in at least one level of the credential.


Higher Education

Of the 3,063 early childhood degree programs in the United States, 94 programs (3%) in 34 states, have a focus on early childhood management, administration, leadership, or advocacy. A majority of them (69%) are offered at public institutions, with 44% at 2-year colleges and 45% at 4-year institutions.8 Most programs (81%) are delivered in-perso n, however 7% are offered exclusively on-line and 15% are hybrid programs.

Elementary principal preparation is offered in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through 2,376 programs by 797 institutions.9 Of these, 246 programs (10%) are for bachelor’s degrees; 1,400 programs (59%) are for master’s degrees; and 730 programs (31%) lead to a doctoral degree. The capacity of higher education to prepare principals for the workforce is exponentially greater than that of preparing early childhood program administrators.


Leadership Academies

In addition to formal education for early childhood administrators, there are 32 leadership development programs, in 17 states, with a specific focus on early childhood program leadership.10 These leadership academies address various needs of program site directors including one or more of the domains of whole leadership11—pedagogical leadership, administrative leadership, and leadership essentials. The delivery approaches differ and may include coaching and mentoring, train-the-trainer options, online or hybrid learning, or face-to-face workshops.


State Profiles

The L.E.A.D. Early Childhood Clearinghouse website presents profiles for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each profile includes state-specific scores on the policy levers and statistics about administrators and leadership development in the state. Of the states with registries that meet PER guidelines, additional information about the characteristics of administrators and density maps of the concentration
of early childhood administrators is available. Links to specific information about early childhood leadership in each state are accessible through the site’s interactive features. Learn more here about the multiple indicator rubric for each policy lever.