Early childhood education leads to higher academic outcomes both in K-12 and beyond, as well as better social and emotional outcomes and greater economic success.

The education system of the country received a strong blow with the release of art National Assessment of Educational Progress‘s National report cardthe first since 2019. The report clearly showed how much the pandemic has affected education, with results a significant decline in math scores and a drop in reading scores among students across the country.

And we will likely continue to see disparities for children who have not yet entered primary school during the pandemic.

“Even for children in free public kindergarten, it looked different, because some children are virtual, some did not attend kindergarten at all, some attended in person,” says Dr. Kerry Gillispie, Senior P-12 Research Fellow at The Education Trust. “And that level of variability had such a big impact on first and second grade and what it looked like for the kids because they have such a variable experience.”

In 2020, 17% of families with children in kindergarten delayed entry, three times more than a decade earlier in 2010.

Then you mix in kids who never had access to kindergarten at all, and first and second grades become even more challenging for schools, families, educators, and students.

In 2020 17% of families with children of kindergarten age delayed registrationwhich is triple the amount compared to a decade earlier in 2010. “This increase in delayed registrations also cuts across different cultures and demographics,” Eric the SquirrelK-12 principal Hunt Institutewrote in a statement to Word In Black, adding that “the widening learning gap during the pandemic has led additional states to consider mandatory preschool and kindergarten as a learning recovery strategy.”

So how would it be different if all 50 states required preschool or kindergarten for students instead of only 20?

Advantages of quality preschool education

Researchers have documented the benefits of quality early childhood education for decades, and it continues to be positive. Children in these programs tend to have better academic outcomes both in K-12 and beyond, as well as better social and emotional outcomes and greater economic success.

A new research from Georgetown University examines the links between universal preschool programs and college enrollment, finding that students who attended preschool were 12 percentage points more likely to attend college than those who did not. In addition, the results showed that black students who attended preschool were more likely to enroll in both two-year and four-year institutions than their peers who did not.

A key aspect is that high-quality early childhood education must go hand in hand with quality primary schooling, says Gillispie.

“There needs to be a high-quality, seamless experience for kids,” says Gillispie. “We are indebted to them for achieving these remarkable results.

This period is critical to creating an environment for student learning, says Shernis Lazar, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in Los Angeles. World Citizen Charter Schools. Here, students learn a lot of social development: self-regulation, sharing, taking turns, and focus to sit down and solve a math problem or sound out words phonetically.

It is therefore worrying that early childhood education has been one of the hardest hit in terms of attendance due to the pandemic. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of 3- to 4-year-olds fell by 13 percentage points to 40 percent, and for 5-year-olds by 6 percentage points to 84 percent. Center for Education Statistics State of Education Report 2022.

“On a social-emotional level, it’s really important,” Lazar says. “They’re expected to be able to sit on the carpet, take turns and all that, and be able to read. This is a great cognitive demand for students.”

Black families benefit from universal programs

Even before the pandemic, no state offered high access and high quality black and Latino preschools, Gillispie says, which was the subject of a Education Trust Report 2019. In fact, the report found that only 1% of Hispanic and 4% of black children in the states analyzed were enrolled in quality publicly funded programs, and in 10 states, less than 25% of black children were enrolled in these programs. programs.

And now that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting the health and job losses of black families, it’s much harder for them to find childcare when they’re on their own.

“At the end of the day, we know that black children and families face the greatest inequities in education,” Gillispie says.

This leads to a lack of social-emotional development and an awareness of what it means to be a community, Lazar says. And we to see the impact it has on black studentsin particular Black boyswhen it comes to increasing the level of discipline and referral to special education programs.

“If students don’t have the basic skills of what it means to be a part of a community, what it means to be a part of a student,” says Lazar, “and they start school at 6-7 years old. old, they are often labeled as having behavioral problems.’

But it’s not just about access. Programs must be of high quality, Gillispie says, meaning they are culturally responsive and culturally competent with strong interactions between families and schools, and they must also support children who speak or learn more than one language, as well as students with limited opportunities and delays.

And, Gillispie says, that means “doing all of this through the lens of understanding the systemic, historical and current inequities that black families have faced in trying to access early childhood education.”

However, there is a dearth of research that focuses on specific low-income black communities, as reflected in the available information on the effects of early childhood education. Thus, while research shows that children who attend high-quality preschool programs achieve higher levels of achievement, “much of the research surrounding the benefits of preschool programs for black children does not consider the economic diversity of the black community“- wrote Vevurka.

“Research shows that high-quality Pre-K is virtually unaffordable Black children from underprivileged communities as a result of continued racial and economic segregation,” Vevurka wrote. “Thus, research that focuses on the long-term benefits of high-quality early education for black children is likely to reflect the experiences of black children from middle- and high-income communities.”

Mandates will help close the opportunity gap

It is important to note that simply introducing mandatory pre-school or kindergarten programs does not guarantee their high quality, which is key. While states can write legislation to make sure there’s a level of quality, both in practice and implementation, that doesn’t always work, Gillispie says. Other times, the money is invested in a small number of programs, so they are high quality but not widely available.

So what would change if these programs were mandatory? A lot, actually.

First, in addition to creating access to programs, it will also create access to information, says Lazar.

“Often it’s up to the family, the neighborhood or the community to say, ‘Hey, this is really important, you need to do this,'” Lazar says of the “access deserts” in the black community. “And if it’s not mandated, if it’s not publicized, if there’s not comprehensive services or social programs in the community and it’s up to individuals, a lot of black families don’t have access to that information to know that it’s something that’s available for them. »

And mandatory programs, regardless of whether children are enrolled at age 3, 4, or 5, will reduce the burden of child care on families — especially for black women. A Report for May 2021 The New York Economic Development Corporation found that about 519,000 workers, mostly women and women of color, did not work because they had to take care of the children.

All types of childcare are more expensive now than they were before the pandemic, according to Carewith most parents interviewed currently spend more than 20% of their household income on childcare costs. Check it out interactive calculator to find out what the average cost of childcare is in your area.

Mandatory programs will have a “very big impact” on closing the opportunity gap, Gillispie says. Even though children now start formal education at the same age, white families — especially affluent white families — have many privileges and access that others don’t, Lazar says.

“Even if their child has never set foot in a traditional preschool or kindergarten classroom,” says Lazar, the learning happens during their vacations, museum passes, books, conversations, music and performances that they have access to—access, to which is “often nonexistent for black students and families.”

And there is a misconception that so few families access early childhood education programs because it is their preference.

“Too few families are accessing the programs when they want to,” says Gillispie. “Based on our research, we have every reason to believe that this will have a big impact on the opportunity gap.”

Why was this not done?

The word “mandated” often has a negative connotation, so people often refer to these programs as “universal” preschool or kindergarten. But there’s more than just word choice that goes into fighting these programs.

This often boils down to having sufficient funding for the necessary resources to help programs become and maintain high quality. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently pondered this vetoing legislation it would make kindergarten mandatory in the state, saying they need to “maintain discipline when it comes to spending.”

And now the workforce is under heavy strain when there aren’t enough people in the building to support quality training. Programs must allocate funding recruitment and retention workforce, Gillispie says.

Another misconception is that people think preschool and kindergarten are all about sleep, snacks, and playtime. But when you’re younger, “your brain is like a sponge,” Lazar says, and so much social, cognitive, and academic learning happens during this period.

Kindergarten is much more complex in the sense that it is much more formative and fundamental to students’ social, emotional, and academic success.


Being in a community of learners has so many benefits. Children at this early age are often meeting people for the first time who don’t look like you or speak the same language, and you form relationships and bonds with people who are not family.

“Kindergarten is much more complex in the sense that it is much more formative and fundamental to students’ social, emotional and academic success,” Lazar says.

Access to high-quality early childhood education is a game-changer for people, Lazar says. K-12 education is already underfunded in this country, so adding preschool or kindergarten to the budget seems like an even smaller stretch of already limited resources.

“The big hesitation is that it hasn’t been done before, so why change it? Changes are difficult for people,” says Lazar. “But having a structured learning environment in the community is really important for student success.”

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