Blog

Access and Equity in Early Childhood Education

Author: Michelle Conroy Director, Early Grade Success Initiatives

July 2, 2020

The early years of childhood are formative in development, and quality early education experiences play a pivotal role in establishing a strong foundation in learning. A lack of access to quality early learning opportunities at an early age can have lifelong implications, including a more significant risk of high school dropout and chronic and long-term unemployment.  A recent policy report released by The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) examines inequitable access to high quality early learning programs by race and highlights important policy considerations for ensuring all young children have the opportunity to succeed.

While high-quality programs are expected to reduce racial gaps in learning and development, programs of lower quality tend to have the opposite effect. While Black children enroll in early children education programs at a similar rate to their White peers, the quality of programs Black children have access to--and attend--are typically of lower quality. NIEER points out that even public pre-K programs, which generally exhibit characteristics of higher quality, are sorely lacking in many instances. NIEER’s recent 2019 State of Preschool Report, for example, found that Arizona state-funded pre-K programs only met 3 of 10 quality standards benchmarks while Florida, a state serving a relatively high proportion of our nation’s Black children, only met 2 of 10 quality standards benchmarks.

Achievement gaps between White children and their Black peers are widely documented as early as at kindergarten entry. For example, Black children have been shown to fall, on average, nine months behind White children in math and almost seven months behind in reading. However, a study conducted by Friedman-Krauss, Barnett, and Nores found that when both Black and White children were provided access to and attended a high-quality preschool program for one year, racial disparities in reading were almost completely eliminated and the math achievement gap was nearly reduced by one-half.

As NIEER indicates, improving quality standards, increasing funding, and expanding access are all necessary steps in ensuring our country’s Black children have the opportunity to attend and benefit from a high-quality preschool program. With our nation’s current economic and health-related challenges, it is more important than ever to prioritize progress while ensuring racial inequities do not widen.

Helios Education Foundation is committed to ensuring young children have access to quality early learning environments, regardless of race, income, or geography. The Foundation contributes its leadership, expertise, partnership and resources to promote equitable access to high-quality early learning programs and alleviate educational disparities in Arizona and Florida.  

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