In the nearly 70 years since the US Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, America’s K-12 and higher education environments have become richer in diversity. However, this is not always the case in American preschool classrooms.
In fact, a 2019 report by The Urban Institute found that American preschool classrooms are more than twice as likely as their kindergarten and first-grade counterparts to be nearly 100 percent black or Hispanic in their student composition.
What is behind this unexpected segregation? The answers are complex, but a key factor is public policy. Ironically, state and federal preschool investments, often enacted in the name of improving equitable outcomes, may be inadvertently contributing to further segregation through prioritization of enrollment, not just by race and ethnicity, but also by socioeconomic and other key demographics.
In collaboration with the Education Trust, the Century Foundation, and the Educational Alliance’s Manny Cantor Center, our team at The Hunt Institute has been hard at work in recent months exploring the values of diversity and inclusion in preschool and the ways that policymakers can better support strong integration. of early childhood settings.
Research has found that diverse and inclusive environments positively impact children’s development across multiple domains, including their social, emotional, and cognitive development. When children are exposed to diversity from a young age, they gain stronger social and emotional skills and increase their awareness and understanding of diverse perspectives and cultures. Inclusive environments can foster greater acceptance of others and help prepare children to navigate and succeed in an increasingly diverse world.
Economically diverse classrooms help close achievement gaps and stimulate the cognitive and social growth of all children in the classroom. In economically integrated classrooms, preschool children with low and high socioeconomic levels acquire greater language skills. Research with school-age children has found that when children are in integrated and diverse settings, they show growth in test scores, are more likely to enroll in college, and are more creative and innovative in the way they think. to think.
Diverse educational environments also have economic and social benefits. Studies have shown that children in diverse classrooms are prepared to be global citizens and succeed in a global economy, have access to more equitable resources, and are likely to earn more as adults and have a better quality of life.
With a wealth of evidence suggesting the benefits of diversity in the classroom, what can policymakers do to better support such classrooms? A key first step may involve taking a cue from the oath taken by doctors: “First, do no harm.”
The nation’s preschool investments, from Head Start and child care subsidies to state-funded kindergartens, are directed almost exclusively at low-income children, resulting in a higher prevalence of preschool settings. racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically homogeneous, especially in geographic areas where these populations may already be significant. While universal programs open to all children would almost certainly eliminate some of these concerns, so could less costly public policy approaches designed to thoughtfully and proactively address them.
The intentional use of mixed delivery Approaches through which income-eligible children are funded to participate in public and private preschool classrooms along with otherwise ineligible, tuition-paying peers is an idea that is gaining traction in preschool programs. pre-kindergarten throughout the country.
Similarly, state and federal legislators must be careful not to create programs and funding criteria so rigid that their expectations can only be met in self-contained classroom settings. Instead, agency leaders should undertake the hard work of aligning and (as necessary) deconstructing program requirements to allow preschool providers maximum flexibility to integrate classrooms through mix and match. from multiple sources of income.
These are just some of the recommendations included in a new report, “Strong Foundations: Promoting Diverse and Inclusive Preschool Environments,” released this month by our coalition of partner organisations, with the support of the Trust for Learning. We invite you to read the full report and share it with policymakers and early education leaders within your networks.
With deliberate and proactive approaches, policymakers can extend the benefits of diversity and inclusion to all preschool students. The time to do it is now.
Javaid Siddiqi, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The Hunt Institute, an education policy resource for the nation’s governors, state legislators, and top elected state leaders based in Cary, NC.