Disadvantaged from the Start: Why Latino Students Need Early Childhood Education
September 15 2011
By Erika Beltran, Senior Policy Analyst, Education
Ten years ago this September I started my first job as a bilingual kindergarten teacher in Houston, Texas. It was the first of day school, and for many of the children in my classroom, it was the first time that they had ever stepped foot into a formal school setting. Mothers dropped their children off and they were in tears as they left their young children to embark on their academic careers.
That first day of school it became clear that the young children in my classroom were still grasping the complexities of being in school, not to mention the complexities of literacy and math. But what became even more evident was that those children who had gone to preschool had a huge leg up. They had an edge because they knew what to expect in school, and already knew the alphabet, how to write their names, and how to count. Those children, however, were the exception, not the rule.
In Houston, Latino children make up 61% of the share of public school students. Similar to the rest of the United States, the vast majority of the Latino children in my classroom had not attended preschool. In fact, as our recent report Preschool Education: Delivering on the Promise for Latino Children highlights, in 2009, only 48% of Latino four-year-olds attended preschool, compared to 70% of White and 69% of Black children of the same age. This puts Hispanic children at a disadvantage as they enter into elementary education.
This disadvantage becomes very clear early on. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that in 2009, only 17% of fourth grade Hispanic students were at or above proficiency in reading. In math, only 22% of Hispanic students were at or above proficiency. Essentially, the vast majority of Latino children are behind before they even get started. It’s no surprise that only 56% of Latino students graduate high school in four years.
Early learning, although often overlooked, is an essential component in helping children succeed in school. For Latino children, the benefits are endless—yet, ten years after starting my career as a teacher, not much has changed. Latino children still don’t have access to high-quality preschool programs and enter school at a huge disadvantage. Policymakers have yet to devise a comprehensive approach to early learning that allows the promises of early childhood education to be fulfilled.
NCLR has been very active in advocating for state and federal policies that expand access to high-quality early learning programs for Latino children. We are calling on policymakers to improve the quality of services for Latino children, to fund facilities development in high-poverty communities where there are limited early learning programs, and to fund programs that promote meaningful family engagement. Fortunately, recent federal proposals, like the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, incentivize states to closely examine how to better serve all children. Let’s not miss this window of opportunity to dramatically improve the education of Hispanic students across the country and help them enter school ready for success.
Issues: Education Policy Team, Youth, Early Childhood Education
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas