National data show that different groups of children enroll in preschool at different rates. For example, children who are Hispanic, immigrants or dual language learners (DLLs) are less likely to participate in center-based early education and care programs than white non-Hispanic children, according to NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research).
Because this difference can trigger achievement gaps, NIEER is also proposing ways to enroll more children in center-based care.
How important are formal preschool programs for children? A recent study from the University of California Center Sacramento found “a predominance of positive effects for children in immigrant families attending formal prekindergarten care on both academic and socioemotional school readiness measures.”
And as we’ve blogged before, early education programs can meet the needs of young dual language learners.
Immigrant and DLL Demographics
NIEER and CEELO (the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes) held a webinar on the needs of immigrant and DLL children late last year, and NIEER covered the issue last month in a Preschool Matters blog written by Milagros Nores, NIEER’s Associate Director of Research.
“… only one in two DLL Hispanics or Immigrant Hispanics attend a center-based program. This suggests that aspects of language and immigration status are likely defining why children participate.”
Nores adds: “We then wondered about similarities between these enrollment patterns and kindergarten entry gaps. Using Whites as the group of reference, it turns out that Hispanic DLLs and Hispanic immigrant children have very large performance gaps in reading, math, and language.”
These two groups — Hispanic DLLs and Hispanic immigrant children — “pretty much drive the overall Hispanic gaps observed at kindergarten.”
And Hispanic children who are both immigrants and DLLs “show very large performance gaps, unlike Native-born English-speaking Hispanics, who fare quite well relative to Whites. It appears we are failing this group.”
Closing the Gaps
To better serve children, the blog says, “clearly policy makers should focus on increasing access, outreach, and participation in high-quality early education for any and all Hispanic children, but especially for Hispanic DLL children and children whose parents are immigrants. Moreover, policy makers and practitioners both should recognize how diverse Hispanics are as a group, and how the needs of DLL Hispanic children differ depending on their family histories.”
To do this work, NIEER calls for:
– screening language abilities
– developing guidelines and standards that address the needs of these groups
– promoting the proliferation of bilingual programs, and,
– planning ways to engage and effectively work with diverse groups of Hispanic children
In Massachusetts, efforts are underway. The Department of Early Education and Care is running training sessions for Early Childhood Providers Who Work with Children from Immigrant and Refugee Families.
And even ETS, the Educational Testing Service, has weighed in noting that, “In the drive for expanded access to high-quality early education programs, stakeholders need to understand and address the unique learning needs of young Hispanic dual language learners…”
As the NIEER blog says, “Addressing these issues in early care and education begins with obtaining a better understanding who our children are and who are we serving (and not serving).”
“How well we do this in the first years of their lives will have important consequences for their developmental pathways and their opportunities, and this will be reflected in the our society 15-20 years from now.”