A study of 26 states and their preschool programs finds that as of roughly two years ago, a mere 1 percent of Latino children and just 4 percent of black children in those states were enrolled in “high-quality” state-backed early-learning opportunities.
That’s one main conclusion from a new report from the Education Trust, an education civil rights advocacy group. “Young Learners, Missed Opportunities: Ensuring That Black and Latino Children Have Access to High-Quality State-Funded Preschool,” which was released on Wednesday, also says that “no state with a substantial percentage of black or Latino children provides high access to a high-quality program for both 3- and 4-year-olds.”
Another indicator that access is an acute concern, according to the organization, because black and Latino children were often underrepresented in state preschool programs. In 11 of the 26 states, Latinos accounted for a smaller share of enrollment in these programs than their share of the state population as a whole. The same was true in three of those 26 states for black children. And having access means more than just having enough seats, the Education Trust stresses; it means having affordable, strong options without having to jump through unfair barriers.
“Systemic racism causes opportunity gaps for black and Latino children that begin early—even prenatally, which makes it crucial for these families to have access to high-quality [early childhood education] opportunities as a pathway to success into their K-12 education,” the report states.
It’s important to remember that the report doesn’t account for enrollment in other preschool programs, notably Head Start. In addition, there are many states where even the data that’s available doesn’t allow for a more detailed breakdown. Carrie Gillispie, one of the report’s authors, says she wasn’t surprised by this lack of information.
“There is so much early-childhood data that is not disaggregated by race and ethnicity” in a way that is informative about equity in early learning, said Gillespie, a senior analyst at the Education Trust’s P-12 policy team.
There are some bright spots in the report. Georgia, for example, enrolls over 60 percent of black and Latino 4-year-olds in its state preschool program, which meets most of the benchmarks the Education Trust uses to determine quality (more on that below).
And for their to-do lists, states should focus on expanding strong preschool programs in historically underserved areas and make sure black and Latino parents are aware of what’s on offer, among other things.
To determine if state preschool offerings were “high-quality” programs, the Education Trust checked if programs met at least nine of the 10 benchmarks for quality from the National Institute for Early Education Research. These include a staff-to-child ratio of no higher than 1:10, a class size of no more than 20, curriculum supports, and a teacher with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Here’s how it looks in the Education Trust report, for example, when you break it down by Latino 3- and 4-year-olds and the ratings of various state preschool programs (there’s a similar chart in the report for black children):
We asked Gillispie whether it’d be fair to consider a program “high quality” if it met six or seven of those NIEER benchmarks, instead of nine or ten. She responded that those benchmarks themselves represent more of a floor for early-education programs and not a high watermark. States, she noted, could be putting a lot more resources into these programs.
The report’s authors looked at 2017-18 data for their research. They only looked at state preschool programs and did not study private preschool programs or Head Start programs that weren’t supplemented by the state. The group excluded 19 states from the study because they did not provide relevant enrollment data for children of color. Six states were also excluded because they didn’t have state preschool programs.
How does the report look in a political context? If you look at the Democratic presidential candidates’ platforms, you’ll see most, if not the vast majority, of them favor some form of universal pre-K. But their platforms on this—not to mention other education issues—tend to be very light on details.
Expanding pre-K to make it universal is one thing, although remember President Barack Obama in 2013 tried and failed with a $75 billion, 10-year proposal (one that would have included the participation of states). Access to existing programs is another matter. (As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, Congress did approve $250 million in annual Preschool Development Grants.)
Photo: Preschoolers Alaya and Jerome work together on a project at the MacDowell Montessori School in Milwaukee. (Sara Stathas for Education Week)