Three Recommendations to Address a Lack of Equity for Black and Latinx Children in Early Education
by Kent Mitchell, NHSA’s Director of State Affairs
“Our data is devastating. No state provides the two essential elements for a strong early start for our nation’s Black and Latino children — quality and access. Despite overwhelming research on the value of high-quality preschool, states continue to willfully neglect our youngest students of color.”
– Carrie Gillispie, Ed.D, senior analyst for P-12 policy, The Education Trust
In the past 20 years, U.S. states have increasingly invested in pre-K programs to ensure more four-year-olds get the benefits of early learning. They now spend over $8 billion each year to serve 1.3 million four-year-olds. We should rightly celebrate and hold up this progress, which has included investment in many Head Start programs. But, by way of a progress report, a new study from the Education Trust shines a welcome spotlight on an urgent challenge facing state pre-K systems: the lack of equity in access and quality for Black and Latinx children.
Young Learners, Missed Opportunities - The Education Trust
Out of the 26 states analyzed, not one provided both high-quality and high-access ECE for 3- and 4-year-old Black and…
According to their analysis of 26 states:
- Only 1% of Latinx children and 4% of Black children in the 26 states analyzed were enrolled in high-quality state-funded preschool programs.
- In 11 of 26 states, Latinx children are underrepresented in state-funded preschool programs. In three of those states, so are Black children.
The lack of attention to equity in state pre-K shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. The good news is that Head Start, which was created over 50 years ago to help level the playing field for children and families living in poverty, has gradually deepened its focus on equity.
Although we have much more work to do, we are proud of Head Start’s impact on supporting children and families of color on their paths to success.
Today, Head Start’s model of whole-child, whole-family care is reaching over half-a-million Black and Latinx children in poverty or otherwise at-risk. In the 2017–2018 program year, Black/African-American children represented 30 percent of children enrolled in Head Start. Also, 37 percent of children were of Hispanic or Latinx origin. An additional 122,880 children identified as biracial, multiracial or another race.
Head Start is also a leader in recognizing the linguistic and cultural diversity of families as an asset in opening up opportunities for learning and engagement. More than 1 in 5 Head Start children speak Spanish as a primary language, and an additional 1 in 10 speak another language other than English or Spanish at home.
The Head Start of today now includes Early Head Start, to help close the gap in prenatal and infant and toddler care for at-risk mothers, children, and families. Today, Latinx infants and toddlers are only half as likely to be in licensed care. Through Early Head Start, over 164,000 pregnant women and children birth to age 3 were served in 2017–2018.
Importantly, the Head Start of today advocates for greater professional recognition, benefits, and compensation for the entire early childhood staff, who are disproportionately women of color. All early childhood professionals should be able to build a career that satisfies their passion and meets their economic needs.
Equity doesn’t happen overnight, but the recommendations within the Education Trust report are an excellent place to start. They mirror many of the priorities of the Head Start and Early Head Start community.
We have a few recommendations of our own to share:
- Integrate and align state pre-K programs with Head Start’s high standards, comprehensive approach, and targeted focus on supporting at-risk children and families. Not surprisingly, the most equitable state pre-K programs recognized in the Education Trust report — including Georgia, Oklahoma and West Virginia — all have strong collaborative relationships with Head Start programs.
- Invest state funds in expanding access to Head Start. Only 1 in 3 income-eligible children have access to Head Start. Thirteen states now invest over $350 million directly in Head Start or Early Head Start to close service gaps, improve program quality, and support working low-income families. All states would benefit from direct investment of state funds in Head Start programs, which are specifically focused on equity.
- Analyze data to improve equity. Equity cannot be achieved if equity gaps are not unmasked and understood. Head Start has experience and data systems to collect and analyze child, family, and program data. Community needs assessments also inform what Head Start services are offered and what partnerships are created. The Head Start community stands ready to partner with state pre-K systems on data integration and would also benefit greatly from these partnerships.
Equity in education is a journey, but it’s also a commitment we owe to our nation’s children and families. As Head Start has experienced, the journey is difficult but rewarding. It is also essential if we are to ever reach Dr. Martin Luther King’s goal of a “beloved community” defined by love, justice, and fairness for all children and families regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or economic status.
About the author: Kent Mitchell is Director of State Affairs at the National Head Start Association