Demographic Shift Calls for Improving Early Education Policies for Children

Apr 08, 2011

By Hannah Matthews

New analysis from the University of California finds that nationally, enrollment in preschool for 4-year-old Latino children declined from 2005 to 2009, while enrollment rates of their white and African-American peers held steady. This decline came on top of the already lower rates of enrollment of Latino children. In 2009, fewer than half of Latino children attended preschool, compared to more than two-thirds of white and African-American children.

Authors of the study suggest that the recession may be the cause of the decline. Latina mothers may have lost their jobs and did not send the children to preschool or could not afford to access center-based programs. It's also possible that the growth of the Latino child population is outpacing growth in availability of preschool. Other research has showed that the supply of center-based care and preschool is generally lower in Latino and recent immigrant communities.

More than one in four young children in the United States is of Latino origin-and that percentage is growing fast. For early education to keep its promise of improving the life trajectory for children, it's imperative that early education initiatives are accessible and appropriate for all children. That means not only ensuring an adequate supply of high-quality care in all communities, but rethinking the provision of quality early education programs and how they may need to be adapted to ensure that they are welcoming and effective for children and families of various cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Beginning with preschool policies, states could start by articulating a vision for providing high-quality preschool to all children. This may be committing to reducing participation gaps between groups of children, establishing a goal of bilingualism for all children, or a statement of recognition of the importance of native language development for young children. States can target eligibility and outreach efforts for preschool and other early education initiatives to English Language Learners and other underserved groups. States can commit to requiring meaningful training for staff on cultural competency and second-language acquisition. 

Both enrollment and demographic data show that it is time to move beyond generalizations to create policies that clearly improve preschool and other early education initiatives for culturally and linguistically diverse children.

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