The U.S. Department of Education recently released the “Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge” application, marking a $500 million investment to improve the quality of early learning programs for children across the country.
NCLR (The National Council of La Raza) applauds this effort, but urges policymakers to address the significant barriers to preschool education for young Hispanics, which continue to place them at an academic disadvantage to their non-Hispanic counterparts. NCLR has released “Preschool Education: Delivering on the Promise for Latino Children,” which provides recommendations to ensure that young Latino children enter school on track for academic success.
The report shows that in 2009, only 48 percent of Latino four-year-olds attended preschool, compared to 70 percent of White and 69 percent of Black children of the same age, putting Hispanic children at a disadvantage as they enter into elementary education. Today, one in every four children in the United States under the age of five is Hispanic, a growth rate that is predicted to continue multiplying in the coming decade. In states such as California, Hispanics make up more than half of all school children enrolled in public schools. While the population of Latino children in the school system has significantly increased, many of the schools educating our nation’s youngest students may still lag behind in developing quality measures that ensure they are addressing the needs of this culturally and linguistically diverse population.
“Too little attention has been placed on the particular challenges facing young Latino children who are entering the school system,” said Erika Beltrán, author of the report and Senior Policy Analyst, Education and Children’s Policy Project at NCLR’s Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation. “Almost three-fifths of Latino children live in low-income families and more than one-third live in high-poverty neighborhoods and are likely to have fewer educational resources at home.
“Compounding these challenges is the fact that almost two-fifths of students entering schools as English language learners are Hispanic, yet many preschools do not have mechanisms in place to measure language acquisition in either English or the child’s home language,” she added. “The momentum behind improving systems of early learning, as seen by the investment in the Early Learning Challenge, is encouraging, and we hope this report can inform implementation of this program.”
The report recommends:
• Requiring states to develop early learning guidelines that establish benchmarks for English-language development
• Promoting professional development, training, and technical assistance for teachers to better understand second language acquisition
• Support programs that promote meaningful parent engagement
• Fund facilities development in communities where there are limited early learning programs