The future productivity of the U.S. workforce depends on our current commitment to providing high-quality early childhood education programs for all children, but especially for the quickly growing Latino population. Although many states have a history of primarily serving at-risk children through targeted programs like Head Start, a pre-k-for-all approach is more effective in increasing Latino participation and addressing disparities in school readiness, achievement, and attainment.
- Latino children make up the largest and most rapidly growing racial/ethnic minority population in the United States.
- Of children in the U.S. under age five, 4.2 million or 21 percent are Hispanic.
- Ninety-three percent of Latino children in the U.S. under age 5 are U.S. citizens.
- The largest percentage increases in the Latino population during the last ten years have occurred in the South (North Carolina, 394 percent; Arkansas, 337 percent; Georgia, 300 percent; Tennessee, 278 percent; South Carolina, 211 percent; and Alabama, 208 percent).
School readiness gap
- Hispanic children often start kindergarten less prepared than Caucasian children and are unable to catch up during the primary grades.
- Nationally, the dropout rate for Hispanics is much higher than for other ethnic groups -more than double that of African Americans and more than three times the rate for Caucasians.
- A recent Georgetown University study showed that Latino children in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s pre-k-for-all program experienced the greatest academic gains of all groups.
- Only 40 percent of Hispanic three to five year olds are enrolled in early education programs, compared to 59 percent of Caucasians and 64 percent of African Americans.
- Latino enrollment in Head Start increased far more than that of any other ethnic group between 1994 and 2004 (20 percent versus 3 percent for Caucasians and 8 percent for African Americans).
- Financial, linguistic, educational, and access barriers, as well as a lack of awareness of program availability and benefits account for large portions of the pre-k enrollment gap.
English language learners (ELLs)
- Research indicates that ELLs acquire literacy skills in English faster and do better in school if they have a strong foundation in their home language.
- Schools report that 80 percent of ELLs are native Spanish speakers.
- While the testing of all pre-k-aged children can be controversial, assessment of ELLs is especially complex. Nevertheless, these evaluations are still valuable and necessary.
- Few of the assessments developed specifically for young ELLs meet the rigorous standards necessary for use as part of program evaluations.
- Evaluations should not compare the scores of ELLs to the scores of monolingual English-speaking children.