An Inauspicious Beginning: Segregated In Preschool

Classroom diversity is important in early education.

Classroom diversity is important in early education.

A recently released research report found that most publicly funded preschool programs in the U.S. are segregated by family income and race.

The research was conducted by the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College at Columbia University and the results made public in April, 2015. It was noted in the report that states more than doubled their investments in preschool between 2003 and 2013.  It was also noted that the population of children attending preschool had become more diverse, but that diversity was absent in individual preschool classrooms.

Researchers surveyed state-run preschool programs in 11 states. In a sample of 3,000  children, the researchers found that about 50% of the children came from families earning less than $25,000 per year; 25%  came from families earning between $25,001 and $45,000 per year; and 25% came from families earning over $45,000 per year. They also found that almost 60% of the children were racial or ethnic minority. Additionally, results showed that only about 17% of the children were in classrooms that were both racially and economically diverse.

These findings cause concern because other research has shown that diversity in preschool classrooms matters: children from low-income families make larger academic gains when they are attending school with children from more affluent families. Diversity may also offer important social benefits to higher-income children as well.

According to Jeanne Reid, co-author of the report, almost half of the children in state preschool programs are in mostly minority classrooms and 75% of those children come from low-income families. “When we talk about equity,” she said, “It’s not just about equity of access to preschool but equity at the classroom level, in terms of who you share a classroom with. A lot of attention hasn’t been paid to the difference that makes. And there’s research that shows it makes a difference.”

Some recommendations that were made to improve diversity in early education include: increase funding to improve equity as well as quality; make diversity a priority in preschool classrooms;  strengthen and diversity Head Start programs to enroll up to 10% of children from families with incomes above the poverty level without jeopardizing services to low income children.







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