A new paper, Equity and Excellence: African-American Children’s Access to Quality Preschool, by W. Steven Barnett and Megan Carolan at NIEER and David Johns of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA), examines the critical issue of providing access to quality early childhood programs to African American children. In a collaboration with the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes and the WHIEEAA, their brief addresses the inequities in access for African American children before they even start public school, and how “equitable access to good early childhood education offers great potential for reducing the achievement gap for African-American children.”
The panel discussion will highlight findings from this report, and “Being Black is Not a Risk Factor,” a report released by the National Black Child Development Institute. Both reports “support the President’s investments in high quality early learning opportunities and highlight specific opportunities for African American children and families.”
“The “achievement gap” between students of different social and economic backgrounds can be directly linked to opportunity gaps, including lower access to high-quality education opportunities, “ note Barnett and Carolan. This is measured often in the K-12 years, but, say the authors, “African-American children, and others whose educational needs are poorly met in the first five years of life, fall behind before they even start Kindergarten.”
They found that African American children are disproportionately enrolled in low quality programs, compared to their White and Hispanic peers, in both center- and home-based care. In Head Start programs, serving children from low-income families “only about 1 in 4 African-American students received services in [high quality]centers,” compared to about 1 in 4 White or Hispanic children. The report examines primary care arrangements for children and enrollment in state prekindergarten programs. Several states serving large populations of African American children do have state pre-K programs, but quality, funding, and policies affecting programs do vary among those states.
The authors examine child outcomes too, and report ample evidence that access to high quality preschool programs can make a positive difference for African American children of all income levels in terms of child development outcomes and achievement.
Barnett, Carolan, and Johns recommend:
- Increasing public support for high-quality preschool to expand access to African-American children and to ensure that the programs they attend are, in fact, of high quality.
- As 45 percent of young African-American children live in poverty and 70 percent live in low income families, programs limited to children in poverty will still leave many of them without access to quality preschool education, even if perfectly targeted, which is improbable. Offering high-quality preschool to children living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level would reach most, but the most effective way to ensure that African-American children have access to effective early education prior to kindergarten would be to offer quality pre-K to all children.
- Some states with large African-American populations seem unlikely to set high standards or expand access significantly unless something changes. Federal incentives for states to expand access to state pre-K, and to ensure that these programs are highly effective, would provide impetus for state policy changes that would greatly benefit African-American children.
- Ensure that data are routinely collected and reported on access to pre-K programs by income and ethnicity and that data on quality is collected periodically. Many states cannot report enrollment in pre-K by family background, so that access to programs by African-American children is not routinely measured. The most recent national data with information on quality are from 2005. Another round of quality data should be collected to track change; ideally this would be done every five years to inform policy makers and the public. If this is planned for 2015, it will be ten years since the last collection of nationwide quality data.