Large Increase in Preschool Enrollment Linked to Head Start,

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The percentage of the nation's three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs nearly doubled between 1970 and 1980, according to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics (nces)

Breaking enrollment figures into socioeconomic and racial categories (blacks, whites, and Hispanics) in its most detailed look at the preschool population to date, the federal research organization also found

that black children in that age group were enrolled in school programs in nearly the same proportion as were their white peers, but for very different reasons.

Based on 1980 census information, the study found that 36.7 percent of the nation's 6.2 million three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in school, in most cases nursery school. This is up from 20.5 percent in 1970.

The enrollment rate for black children was 38 percent; it was 36 percent for whites, and 29 percent for Hispanics.

This dramatic rise in the rates of preschool enrollment parallels the equally sharp increases in the number of women with children in the nation's workforce (from 11.9 percent in 1950 to 47.8 percent in 1981) and the number of one-parent families (from 10 percent of all families in 1970 to 20 percent in 1981), according to census statistics.

Variety of Characteristics

The nces study examined a variety of economic, geographic, and educational characteristics of the families of the three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs.

It found that, in general, those in school are much more likely than not to be from urban homes with a white-collar breadwinner who has at least a high-school diploma and earns over $15,000 per year.

A much higher proportion of white children than black children come from such backgrounds, the study found.

But despite such differences, the overall rate of black enrollment was the same as that for white children because, according to the study, a disproportionately high percentage of black children are enrolled in Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for disadvantaged students.

While 13 percent of all the three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs during the fiscal year 1980-81 were in Head Start programs, 34 percent of all black children and 30 percent of the Hispanic children that age who were in school were in Head Start. The figure for white children was only eight percent.

The study also noted that 69 percent of the white students surveyed, but only 35 percent of the blacks, attended private preschools.

And in general, enrollment rates for three- and four-year-olds of Hispanic origin were consistently lower than those for whites and blacks, the study found.

Vol. 01, Issue 41

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