In Focus: Pre-kindergarten

May 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Improving Pre-Kindergarten Access for Children of Immigrants

By Rhiannon Reeves

Despite opportunities for advancing school readiness and child well-being, children of immigrants are less likely than children of U.S.-born citizens to access early education programs. A new Urban Institute report confirms that states and local communities can improve access to preschool by using intentional outreach and enrollment strategies and building stronger relationships with parents.

Children of immigrants and English Language Learners (ELLs) are a growing segment of the U.S. population, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all children in the United States.  To accommodate such growth and diversity, communities and states across the country must meet the needs of immigrant families.

Supporting Immigrant Families' Access to Prekindergarten makes proposals for conducting outreach that supports pre-kindergarten enrollment amongst immigrant families and ELLs; helping immigrant families overcome language, documentation, and other logistical barriers when enrolling their children in prekindergarten programs; and building trust and good relationships with immigrant parents and designing immigrant- and ELL-friendly programs. The report includes strategies for:

  • Outreach: To ensure immigrant families are aware of pre-kindergarten and other available options, programs should participate in community events, go door-to-door in targeted neighborhoods, reach parents in places they already frequent such as grocery stores and churches, encourage parents of enrolled children to recruit other parents, and use mass media.
  • Enrolling families: To help parents meet paperwork requirements and streamline the application forms and enrollment process, programs should accept multiple document sources to fulfill enrollment requirements; be flexible in the ways that families can verify their income; create enrollment forms sensitive to immigrant families’ needs; offer multiple ways to enroll; provide enrollment assistance; and offer a variety of enrollment times and locations.  These approaches benefit all families, not just immigrant families.
  • Building relationships with parents: To help pre-kindergarten programs become self-sustaining, programs should engage immigrant families as ambassadors by building trust and good relationships with parents and communities through a welcoming attitude; work with trusted community partners; build capacity for communicating with immigrant parents; address logistical barriers such as volatile work schedules; and build cultural competency that supports families’ cultural beliefs and practices.

To meet the changing demographics of the young child population, policymakers need to creatively address the design and implementation of early learning programs to ensure ELLs are included and ideally served in high-quality early learning programs such as pre-kindergarten. As states consider expanding pre-kindergarten offerings through new federal opportunities and additional state funding, ensuring such programs include and benefit children of immigrants will be essential.

May 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Strong Start for America’s Children Act Moves Forward in Senate

By Stephanie Schmit

Today, the Senate passed the Strong Start for America’s Children Act out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee. The Strong Start bill would establish a partnership between state and federal governments to equip states to improve and expand high-quality, full-day preschool programs for four-year-olds with the goal of increasing school readiness. It would also establish Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships that would bring high-quality infant and toddler care that meets Early Head Start standards to many more children.   

High-quality early education experiences are widely recognized as key to preparing young children for school success and improving the lifetime employment and earnings of low-income children. In addition to children and families, our society as a whole bears a large cost burden for children not equipped to succeed in life. The Strong Start Act would help equalize the opportunities children have at the starting gate. In particular, the following components of the bill would advance high-quality, comprehensive early care and education access for children across the country by:

  • Setting clear expectations for high-quality services including high staff qualifications and developmentally appropriate and evidence-based curricula and learning environments.
  • Providing critical supports to increase the educational attainment of the early childhood workforce.
  • Addressing the needs of low-income working families by allowing schools, Head Start and child care settings to offer pre-kindergarten and establishing expectations for the provision of full-day services and comprehensive health services.
  • Providing for partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs to ensure that more vulnerable infants, toddlers and their families have access to the comprehensive early education and family support services that are the hallmark of Head Start.
  • Building on existing state structures by providing funding to help states expand access and improve the quality of existing state pre-kindergarten programs. Because a variety of early education settings are needed to meet different families’ needs, schools, Head Start programs, and community-based child care can compete for resources to provide quality care in communities that need it. States will also have the flexibility to use funds for quality improvements, and to serve infants and toddlers.

Read More>>

Apr 8, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

A New Lens: Early Childhood Data from the Office of Civil Rights

By Stephanie Schmit

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recently made an important contribution to the broader discussion of educational equity by releasing long-unavailable district- and state-level data highlighting racial and ethnic disparities in access to quality education and the treatment of students. A key section of the data set released focuses on public early childhood education (ECE), revealing a slice of data not often seen that describes the diversity of children and their varied experiences in public ECE classrooms. The data span a wide range of areas, from accessibility of and eligibility for preschool, to discipline practices and kindergarten retention.

The data reveal that access to public ECE classrooms varies by state and district. For example:

  • Over half of the school districts that operate public preschool allow all students in the district to enroll.
  • 57 percent of school districts that operate public preschool offer only part-day services.
  • Hawaii, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have the highest percentage of school districts offering preschool programs (ranging from 94-100 percent).
  • Texas, Illinois, Florida, California, and Oregon have the highest percentage of English language learners (ranging from 15-36 percent) in their public preschools.

Even in areas where children have access to ECE, however, the data show that children may face inequitable treatment and outcomes. For example:

  • While black children make up 18 percent of all preschoolers nationally, 60 percent of the children suspended from preschool more than once are black.
  • Native-Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islanders, American Indian, and Native Alaskan kindergarten students are held back a year at nearly twice the rates of white kindergarten students.

While the data describe an important piece of the early childhood system, it is only a piece. Nationally, the early childhood education system includes private and publicly funded community-based schools, child care, and Head Start settings. That mixed delivery system is critical to meeting the varying needs of families, and its complexity makes looking at the entirety of the early education system difficult due to various funding streams and data reporting requirements. What we do know is that children who are eligible for various early education programs are not all served. For example, only 42 percent of eligible Head Start children are currently being served.

The OCR data, coupled with many other data sets, show us that we must pay attention to the policies governing early childhood education practices to ensure all children receive a quality education regardless of race or ethnicity. As our country becomes more diverse, it is more important than ever to act quickly and purposefully to improve the educational experiences for all children and families.

For analysis on the full OCR dataset, see “Education as a Civil Right – We Have a Long Way to Go”>>

site by Trilogy Interactive