Quality Counts 2015: Preparing to Launch - Early Childhood's Academic CountdownNWEA
Published Online: January 2, 2015

Early-Childhood Education in the U.S.: An Analysis

The Education Week Research Center analyzed American Community Survey data to identify patterns in the school enrollment of young children. Nationally, most—but not all—children ages 3 to 6 are enrolled in school. Results indicate that preschool participation is heavily influenced by a range of socioeconomic factors, including household income, parental education levels, and race and ethnicity. The state where a child lives also has an impact.

School Enrollment Among Young Children

Nearly two-thirds of children between 3 and 6 years of age are attending school. The majority of those children are participating in either preschool (35 percent) or kindergarten (18 percent) programs, with smaller percentages enrolled in the early elementary grades. Thirty-seven percent of children in this age range are not in school. More than half (52 percent) of 3- and 4-year-olds are not in school. By contrast, only 8 percent of 5- and 6-year-olds are not enrolled in an education program. The majority of youngsters that age attend kindergarten.

Socioeconomic Divide

Children in socioeconomically disadvantaged families are less likely to be enrolled in preschool than their peers. Forty percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income families are enrolled in preschool, compared with 56 percent of children those ages in more affluent households. The enrollment gap based on parental education is even wider.

Race and Ethnicity

Roughly half of Asian, black, and white 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, compared with about 4 in 10 Hispanic and Native American youngsters.

Parental Education

Preschool enrollment is less common among 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents have lower levels of educational attainment. Roughly 4 in 10 children that age who are not enrolled in preschool have parents with a high school diploma or less. By contrast, only about one-quarter of enrolled children have parents who did not complete at least some college.

Uneven Enrollment

Preschool enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds exceeds 50 percent in 10 states and the District of Columbia, which leads the nation with a 76 percent enrollment rate. Most of the states with the highest enrollment levels are located along the East Coast. By contrast, the states with the lowest enrollment rates are concentrated in the western half of the nation.

Poverty-Based Disparities

Nearly all states have higher preschool enrollment rates for children in families with higher earnings than for their low-income counterparts. In most states, the enrollment gap based on poverty status is between 11 and 20 percentage points.

Dividing Line

Preschool enrollment is much more common among children at age 4 than at age 3. Nationally, 61 percent of 4-year-olds attend preschool compared with 35 percent of 3-year-olds. In 45 states, the majority of 4-year-olds participate in such education programs. By contrast, just three states have more than half of 3-year-olds enrolled.

Related: Not Enrolled in Preschool: A State-by-State Breakdown

Source: Education Week Research Center | Layout: Deanna Del Ciello

Vol. 34, Issue 15