Group Says Child Care in Schools May Harm Blacks

By Lynn Olson & Elizabeth Rose — January 22, 1986 4 min read

WASHINGTON--Given the schools’ “dismal” record in educating black students, the trend toward school-based child-care programs could harm black preschoolers by reinforcing educational and social inequalities, a national child-advocacy group argues in a new report.

In “Child Care in the Public Schools: Incubator for Inequality?” the National Black Child Development Institute describes the growth of such programs as a “politically expedient” development reflecting a “grossly deficient understanding of the national child-care problem.”

Effective preschool programs such as Head Start-pay attention to child development, community needs, and the cultural values of the children’s families, the report says--considerations that, it contends, public schools have largely overlooked in teaching blacks.

''The public schools’ report card earns a failing grade from the black community,” said Evelyn K. Moore, the N.B.C.D.I.'S executive director, at a press conference here last week following the release of the report.

She cited a history of discrimination and a lack of parental involvement as problems that hamper the public schools’ ability to serve black children and that make community-based preschool programs an attractive alternative for many black parents.

Her organization will oppose placing additional child-care programs in the public schools until the concerns raised in its report are addressed, Ms. Moore said. She also called for Congressional hearings to determine whether such programs consign minority children to a “diaper ghetto.”

Growth in State Efforts

In leveling its criticisms, the N.B.C.D.I. is challenging a clear nationwide move toward greater public- school involvement in early-childhood education. (See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1985.)

A 1985 report by the Michigan-based High/Scope Educational Research Foundation noted that public schools in more than two-thirds of the states now offer some prekindergarten programs, and that state funding for such programs is growing.

At least 28 states have recently enacted early-childhood-education initiatives, and many others are considering such proposals.

In addition, legislation pending before the Congress would provide money for early-childhood demonstration programs in elementary schools.

The N.B.C.D.I. report notes that a number of factors have combined in the past 10 years to spur the expansion of child care in the public schools.

Schools faced with declining enrollments have seen child-care programs as a way to fill empty classrooms and stave off school closings and staff reductions, the report says. Meanwhile, it points out, increased demand and decreased funding for child care have made school-based care an attractive, low-cost option-- one not requiring new capital expenditures.

But while acknowledging a shortage of child care that it says approaches a national crisis, the N.B.C.D.I. argues that a rapid expansion of school-based programs would be “ill-considered and irresponsible.”

‘Fast-Food System’

“Is expediency replacing quality as the goal of early child-care systems?” asked Carla Curtis, a policy analyst for the organization, at the press conference. “Are we unconsciously moving toward a fast-food delivery system of child care which gives black children empty developmental calories and none of the cultural nourishment they need to grow?”

“The record of our public schools in serving black children is dismal,” Ms. Curtis concluded.

As evidence of the schools’ perceived failure to help black students, Ms. Moore cited the high dropout rate among blacks, their greater likelihood of being suspended, their greater chance of being placed in classes for the educable mentally retarded, and their high rate of functional illiteracy.

Moreover, school testing and tracking practices that are already having a negative impact on black students would be even more harmful for preschool children, the N.B.C.D.I. contends.

Legitimate Concern

“Black parents have a very legitimate concern that the movement toward child care in the schools will serve merely to identify and isolate the so-called potential non-achievers at an even earlier age,” said Ms. Curtis, predicting that a disproportionate number of such children would be black.

In addition to the concerns discussed by Ms. Moore and Ms. Curtis, the report:

  • Questions whether public schools can provide preschool arrangements that are diverse enough to suit the different needs of black families including family day care, in-home care, and group care.
  • Expresses doubt that funding for school-based child care in urban areas would be adequate, given the inadequate resources available for other public-school programs that primarily serve minority students.
  • Echoes the concern of many childcare experts that school-based programs will become an extension of elementary-school curricula and pedagogy. The developmental needs of very young children would make such an approach inappropriate, the report maintains.
  • Recommends that any public school programs that are developed be designed in consultation with black parents. One possible approach, the report says, would be for the schools to contract out the operation of such programs to community groups.
  • Urges black elected officials, earIy-childhood educators, parents, and community leaders to form coalitions to explore alternative models of child-care delivery.
  • Warns that a shortage of minority teachers makes it unlikely that black preschoolers would have appropriate role models.

A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1986 edition of Education Week