The Importance of High-Quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) for Black and Latino Children
Two recent studies, one about the state-funded Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program and another from the University of Chicago, have breathed new life into the ongoing discussion around the value of early childhood education (ECE). The conclusion? High-quality ECE, when followed by high-quality elementary experiences, has positive cascading effects through a child’s elementary years and beyond.
However, the public discussions of the effects of ECE usually center on family income at the expense of a critical focal point: opportunity gaps for Black and Latino children and families, who go on to face race- and ethnicity-related systemic inequities throughout the K-12 system. While income-based disparities are certainly a dire problem in the education system, disparities related to race and ethnicity have important distinctions that require sustained attention.
That’s why The Education Trust just released a first-of-its-kind report, Young Learners, Missed Opportunities: Ensuring That Black and Latino Children Have Access to High-Quality State-Funded Preschool. We asked, how well are state preschool programs providing quality and access for Black and Latino children? The answer: No state-funded preschool program provides both high access and high quality to Black and Latino 3- and 4-year-olds.
The report also serves as a call to action for states to tackle inequities earlier and more directly in public education. Here are some of the findings:
FINDING 1: Far too few Black and Latino children have access to high-quality state-funded preschool programs. Some states excel in quality while others offer relatively high access, but states must provide both high quality and high access, to 3- and 4-year-olds, to capitalize on the particularly sensitive period of brain development during these ages, and to provide equitable ECE opportunities for Black and Latino children.
FINDING 2: Latino children have particularly low access to high-quality state preschool programs. Of the 26 states we analyzed, only 1% of Latino children were enrolled in a high-quality state preschool program. Of the Latino children that were enrolled, only 4% were enrolled in high-quality programs. While myths persist that Latino families often prefer not to enroll children in ECE opportunities, research suggests that low enrollment of Latino children may reflect a mismatch between Latino families’ needs and the availability and outreach of ECE programs that fit those needs.
FINDING 3: In 11 of 26 states, Latino children are underrepresented in state-funded preschool programs. In three of those states, so are Black children. That is, Black and/or Latino children do not make up at least the same percentage of the state’s preschool program as they do the state’s children overall.
The report also provides an ECE Checklist with 10 ways states can increase preschool quality and access to Black and Latino families. For example, Black and Latino families often have lower access to broadband internet, therefore parents should be able to easily enroll children in preschool programs during off-work hours in person or on the phone if they don’t have access to internet. Also, state preschool programs should offer hours that align with working families. Moreover, the ECE workforce should reflect the racial and linguistic diversity of our nation’s children — a diverse workforce is shown to better serve all students and especially children of color and multilingual students.
Above all, state leaders should meet with Black and Latino community members to learn about barriers they face in accessing high-quality ECE. By inviting community members to the table before policy changes begin, and listening throughout the process, policymakers can set Black and Latino children up for success into K-12 and beyond.