Increase government funding for early childhood education programs. This is critical because early education is vital to a child’s development. 90% of physical brain development occurs in the first three years of life.** Research has found a direct correlation between the quality of childcare and a child’s cognitive and language development. The effects of quality early education also go far beyond the early years and the benefits can be seen throughout a child’s adult life.
As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Chang, the co-founder and CEO of WeeCare, a mother, and a preschool owner.
She has always been passionate about childcare. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a dual degree in Psychology, with a focus on Early Childhood Development, and Economics. When Jessica was pregnant with her first child, she began touring daycares only to discover that all spots were full with long waitlists and exorbitant costs. Unable to comprehend why there were so few spots available and so many parents searching for childcare, she decided to dive into the childcare space and become an investor and owner of a preschool. Jessica co-founded WeeCare in 2017 to empower educators and daycare directors to start, fill to capacity, and efficiently operate a licensed home daycare business. WeeCare eliminates parents’ stress of finding a quality daycare by matching them with the best small home daycare environment for their children. In addition, Jessica is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the Early Childcare Planning Committee of LA County and the Santa Monica Early Childhood Task Force. Jessica lives in Los Angeles with her husband Witt and two children, Maddy and Teddy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
Pregnant with my first child, I was not prepared for how expensive childcare was as well as how difficult it would be to find an available spot for my child. After my personal struggle in finding childcare and after touring over 50 daycares, I was determined to transform the childcare industry and to find a solution for other mothers looking for a safe, affordable, nurturing, education-based childcare solution for their child. With that mission in mind, I founded WeeCare.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Since I began my career, one of the most interesting things to happen to me was fundraising for WeeCare while pregnant with my second child and suffering from extreme morning sickness. I did not tell potential investors that I was pregnant as I thought it may deter them from investing in the company.
As a female founder, I felt like I needed to demonstrate that my career would take priority over my family. After the fundraising round was complete, I told my new investors that I was pregnant. They were very supportive. I learned that women should feel empowered when pregnant and embrace motherhood, confident they can balance both a family and a career.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we are working to expand WeeCare into 15 new cities by 2020 which will help parents by providing them access to affordable and quality childcare within their community. There is an extremely high demand for infant care but it can be extremely expensive. Out of the 50 most expensive states for infant care, California is ranked 3rd, Minnesota is ranked 4th, and Illinois is ranked 11th. We are actively addressing this issue of unaffordable infant care as we currently operate in each of these states. We are strategically expanding to offer parents affordable childcare in cities where childcare is the most expensive.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?
I graduated from UC Berkeley with a dual degree in Psychology, with a focus on Early Childhood Development, and Economics. In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of WeeCare, I am the owner of several preschools. In addition, I am a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the Early Childcare Planning Committee of LA County and the Santa Monica Early Childhood Task Force.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
- I would say we are a 7 out of 10 when it comes to rating our university system. The U.S. has some of the best universities, and many of them are public institutions and we have a great community college system. However, the U.S. university system lacks equitable funding and student debt is extremely high.
- I would give the U.S. K-12 system a 5 out of 10 rating. I think it’s great that all states offer free public education, but the quality of education is not equal across the U.S. Also, teachers earn very little and their contribution is not adequately recognized within our society
- The U.S. early education system, I would rate a 1 out of 10. It isn’t a national focus and preschool teachers have the lowest pay among all teachers. The system is primarily a privatized system where most families either don’t have access to an educational option or can’t afford it.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- In the U.S. we have heavily focused on students having access to a college education. The number of high school graduates who attend college is one of the highest rates it has ever been.
- Students can receive a degree from a community college at a low cost.
- There are more resources available to students who need to finance their college education.
- According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in both reading and math, and across all three age groups — 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds — scores are higher today than they were in the early 1970s.
- The U.S. public education system offers free education to all children.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
1 . Increase government funding for early childhood education programs. This is critical because early education is vital to a child’s development. 90% of physical brain development occurs in the first three years of life.** Research has found a direct correlation between the quality of childcare and a child’s cognitive and language development. *** The effects of quality early education also go far beyond the early years and the benefits can be seen throughout a child’s adult life.
** Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development Issue Brief (Washington, DC: Child Welfare Information Gateway, November 2009)
***Childcare Aware P. 28
2 . Provide families with access to government subsidies to fund their child’s early childhood education in the same way that families have access to government subsidies to fund their child’s public college education
We need a larger federal investment in childcare. Child care is extremely expensive and in most states, the cost exceeds the federal subsidy payment. And although the federal government recommends the state’s provider payment is at the 75th percentile, most states set theirs much lower, leaving parents without an affordable option.
3 . Create standardized wages for all educators, including preschool teachers
This is critical because preschool teachers earn about half of what elementary and middle school teachers earn. The median preschool teacher makes a little over $28K where elementary school teachers earns around $60K, and a middle school teacher earns around $61K. More research indicates that children without quality early childhood experiences are 25% more likely to drop out of school, 40% more likely to become teen parents, and 60% less likely to attend college.****
****Heckman “Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy”
4 . Establish a standardized paid family leave nationwide for both men and women.
This is critical because the U.S. is the only developed country without paid maternity leave and only 19% of working Americans have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The financial ramifications for this are huge too. It is estimated that the U.S. economy would reap more than $500 billion a year if women ages 25 to 54 were part of the workforce (at the same levels as their German and Canadian peers who have access to family-friendly benefits, according to a projection from the Department of Labor’s chief economist).
5 . Increase the ‘dependent care’ tax reimbursement from $5,000 a year to $10,000 a year to align with the average annual cost of early childcare education
The credit gradually decreases as earnings rise, dropping to 20% of eligible expenses once income reaches $43,000 or more. However, the majority of parents’ income is spent on childcare and this tax reimbursement does not take into account the rising cost of childcare.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
We need to increase funding in STEM. Even with the promise to commit $200 million to STEM education, we need to increase this funding to prepare young people for the future. Technology has transformed many of the jobs that the next generation will pursue and we need to ensure youth have the skills to obtain jobs with career opportunities.
The U.S. needs to give all students access to computer science programs as minorities and girls are the first to miss out on the opportunity. Only 34 percent of African-American students have access to a computer science class and there is also a gender gap of who takes these classes.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
It is important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects to increase the number of women who pursue a career in the tech industry. Only 28% of STEM workers are women and currently, 75% of the tech industry workforce is male. This means that women are missing out on a career with a large earning potential. Engineering and computing are 80% of the STEM jobs that are available and are also the best-paying jobs. When women are not in STEM roles, they also don’t have a voice when it comes to how invention and technology will shape our future.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
If you look at the numbers, the U.S. is not doing enough to engage girls and women in STEM subjects. In 1985 women received 37% of technology-related degrees granted in universities and in 2014 that number dropped to 18%.
Three ways we can increase girls and women’s engagement in STEM subjects include: creating more organizations that encourage women to participate in tech such as Girls Who Code, have more female role models and examples of women in the profession who have made a difference in the tech industry, and schools’ entire faculty and parents should encourage girls to take these classes starting in middle school; and these classes should be marketed inclusively so girls don’t feel left out.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
I think it depends on the age of the children. WeeCare’s learning program focuses on early education. Younger students can benefit from hands-on STEAM activities that incorporate multiple subject areas.
I think there should be a focus on both STEM and STEAM as each student will respond to a different teaching approach. This allows students to explore their interests in multiple subjects.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think your answers to the question — Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical? Identify this but please let me know if you have anything to add here
- Make early childhood education a priority and increase government funding for the reasons that I shared above. And, research clearly shows that early education impacts a child into adulthood.
- Create standardized income for all teachers. In order to keep and attract educators to the teaching field, we need to increase all teachers’ salaries. We also need to correct the disparity that exists for teachers as preschool teachers earn an extremely low income. Teaching should not have to work a second job to pay their bills or simply accept that teaching is a low-paying field.
- Recognize teachers as influential within society. Nationally honoring teachers and placing them on the center stage is one way we can accomplish this. Until we recognize the role of teachers and give them the recognition they deserve, this will be a career that won’t attract the talent that we need for America’s youth and to inspire future leaders. We should also create a way to nationally recognize women within the field of STEM and give young women examples of role models that will encourage them to embrace studying STEM.
- Increase the ‘dependent care’ tax reimbursement from $5,000 a year to $10,000 a year to better align with the average annual cost of early childcare education. Childcare often costs more than a family’s housing cost. This increased assistance would help substantially to offset some of the costs for families.
- Increase families’ access to government subsidies for early childhood education. Until the government implements some reforms, it is nearly impossible for families to afford quality childcare.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote speaks to why WeeCare was created: to solve the problem of early childcare and to make affordable childcare a reality for all families. No one is going to help you solve the problem; it is up to you to create a solution. As a founder and entrepreneur, you need to have the drive and commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure your company succeeds and fulfills its mission.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Tim Ferriss. I recently read his book “The 4-Hour Chef.” I am amazed at how he approaches problems and figures out solutions. My favorite part of the book is when Tim discusses how solutions should not be created for the norm, but the outliers and by solving this you will most likely address 99% of the issues.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Twitter handle is @jessicajchang.