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Barnett Who Goes and Why It Matters

Barnett Who Goes and Why It Matters

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Published by Education Justice

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Published by: Education Justice on May 18, 2010
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NIEER 
Who Goes to Preschooland Why Does it Matter?
by W. Steven Barnett and Donald J.Yarosz
In a world shaped by global competition, preschool educationprograms play an increasingly vital role in child developmentand school readiness. There is growing awareness that early learning’s impacts persist across children’s life spans, affectingeducational achievement, adult earning and even crime anddelinquency.Preschool education is increasingly seen as a middle-income essential.
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In 2005, two-thirds of 4-year-olds andmore than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in apreschool education program. This represents a substantialincrease over earlier decades, particularly at age 4. Theevidence indicates the increase in enrollment has not reachedall segments of the population equally and there are variationsin participation rates regionally within the U.S. This reportseeks to identify these important differences and shed lighton how income, education, ethnicity, family structure,maternal employment and geography relate to preschooleducation program participation.
What We Know:
• The preschool participation picture iscomplex and dynamic, with childrenattending a patchwork quilt of publicand private programs.• Long-term increases in pre-K participationowe as much to increased demand for edu-cation as increased demand for child care.• Pre-K attendance rates remain highly unequal and many of those who mightbenefit most from pre-K participationdo not attend.• Targeted programs appear to haveimproved access to preschool educationfor children from lower-income families,but fall short of their intended goals.• Families with modest incomes (under$60,000) have the least access to preschooleducation.• Existing data sources on preschool educa-tion do not provide an unduplicated countof participation by program.
Policy Recommendations:
• Federal and state programs will requireexpansion and greater coordination tofinish the job of reaching disadvantagedchildren with high-quality preschooleducation.• Strategies need to build upon and movebeyond targeting to increase access tomiddle-income families who find itdifficult to access high-quality pre-K.• Policy initiatives should address regionalimbalances in preschool education access.• As access is increased, quality must beraised.Yet, there are limits to how fast thesupply of good teachers and good facilitiescan be increased and policies may need toincrease capacity gradually.• Accurate data on participation by type of program, child’s age and length of enroll-ment are needed. Coordination is neededamong researchers, and local, state andfederal agencies responsible for pre-Kprograms.
Revised November 2007Issue 15
       P     r     e     s     c        h     o     o        l       P     o        l       i     c     y       B     r       i     e        f
Policy Brief series edited byEllen C. Frede, Ph.D., andW. Steven Barnett, Ph.D.National Institute forEarly Education Researchwww.nieer.org
 
Preschool education program parti-cipation in the United States hasincreased steadily for many decades.Today, the vast majority of childrenspend time in a classroom before they enter kindergarten. In effect, many children attend “school” for one oreven two years before they enterkindergarten. This represents a pro-found change in American education.Over the past half century, the way America educates its young childrenhas changed substantially. Data fromthe Current Population Survey (CPS)describe the enrollment of youngchildren in “school” (as reported by parents) over 40 years. In 1965, only 60 percent of 5-year-olds were inschool. This rose to 85 percent by 1980 and reached the low 90s by 2005. Participation of younger chil-dren was far lower in 1965, only 5percent of 3-year-olds and 16 percentof 4-year-olds. These percentagesincreased rapidly through 1980 andhave continued to increase since. In2005, more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds and nearly 70 percent of 4-year-olds attended “school” according tothe CPS. The trends over time aredisplayed in Figure 1.For more than two decades theoverwhelming majority of Americanchildren have begun school no laterthan age 5, and kindergarten is widely seen as the first year of school. Mostpublic schools begin with kinder-garten. The U.S. Bureau of the Censushas documented this trend, but stillclassifies kindergarten as “preprimary education.Clearly, this is an anachro-nism. As shown in Figure 1, two-thirdsof today’s children begin school at age4, though the vast majority do notattend public school.
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At both 3 and4, children attend a complex patch-work of public and private programsthat go by a variety of names including:preschool, prekindergarten (pre-K),4-year-old kindergarten (4K), HeadStart, child care, day care, and nursery school. In this brief we use the term“preschool” or “pre-K” to representeducational, center-based programs.The many names for programs young children attend reflect thediverse auspices and dual purposesof pre-K programs. The federal gov-ernment provides Head Start tochildren in poverty. State and localeducation agencies offer preschooland prekindergarten programs.Private for-profit, nonprofit, andfaith-based organizations operateprograms under all of these names.These programs vary in the extent towhich they are designed to meet: (1)the educational needs of young chil-dren and (2) the child care needs of parents. Thus, it cannot be assumedthat either education or child careneeds are adequately met just becausea child is enrolled in
some 
program.Although pre-K programs canserve both education and care pur-poses well, they do not always do so.First, families vary in their child careneeds and many families desire agood education for their child, but donot seek long hours of child care in aclassroom setting. Some programs
Preschool Policy Brief | November 2007
Long-Term Trend: Preschool Education is on the Increase
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Preschool Policy Brief | November 2007
3
specialize in serving children in thesefamilies. Second, the educationaleffectiveness and hours of a programboth increase its costs. Thus, govern-ment agencies, private organizations,and families paying for preschooleducation programs may trade educa-tional quality for hours of care whenthey need long hours of care. Theextent to which programs emphasizeeducation or hours of care is oftenreflected in program names. Programscalled child care and day care gener-ally are designed to meet the needs of working parents, providing as many as 10 hours per day and even offeringweekend and evening hours in somecases. Preschool, prekindergartenand nursery school programs tend toemphasize their educational aspectsand may offer each child as little astwo to three hours per day, for twoor three days a week. Head Start isa child development program thatprovides a broad range of services tomeet the educational and other needsof young children in poverty andtheir families.Despite these generalizations,program names are not a highly reliable guide to either educationaleffectiveness or hours of care. Nearly all classrooms for young children areconsidered to offer education by theproviders and parents. Child careprograms can deliver an effectiveeducation and provide long hours of care, given sufficient resources. Somestate education agency preschool edu-cation programs operate up to 10hours per day and many offer wrap-around care to extend hours. HeadStart programs can be part day orfull-day and offer wrap-around care.Educational quality varies considerably under every name.
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Unfortunately,true high quality is not the norm forthe nation’s preschool education pro-grams. This report makes no attemptto differentiate program participationon the basis of quality.Discussion of the dual purposes of pre-K programs raises the question of the extent to which one or the otherhas driven growth in participation.This question is answered in Figure 2.Over the past half century, preschoolparticipation has increased at thesame pace for children whether or nottheir mothers are employed outsidethe home. The primary source of growth is increased demand for theeducation of young children by allparents. As children with employedmothers are more likely to enroll ina pre-K classroom, the growth of maternal employment has playedsome role in increased participationrates, but child care demand is of secondary importance to education.
Figure 1.Kindergarten and Preschool Education Participation by Age: 1965–2005
Source: Current Population Survey (CPS) October Supplement 1965-2005.Note: Some children enter kindergarten at age 6 and are not included here.
100%90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%0%1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
G
5-year-olds
G
4-year-olds
G
3-year-olds
Figure 2.Preschool Education Participation by Maternal Employment: 1967–2005
Source: Current Population Survey (CPS) October Supplement 1967-2005.Data for the following years have been interpolated: 1977–1981, 1983, 1984 and 1986.
100%90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%0%1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
G
In labor force
G
Not in labor force5-year-olds4-year-olds3-year-olds

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