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Rutgers University: Hispanic Children Have Least Access to Preschool

Hispanic children lag behind other ethnic groups in access to preschool education, according to a recent report from researchers at Rutgers University.

Overall, those with less access are children from low-income, poorly educated families who live in the West and Midwest, said the study from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers.

Using data from the National Household Education Surveys, the NIEER analyzed differences in how income, education, ethnicity, family structure, mothers’ employment and geography affect participation in preschool.

The report, issued Nov. 8, “Who Goes to Preschool and Why Does it Matter?” said two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in some kind of preschool program in 2005. In 1965, only 5 percent of 3-year-olds and 16 percent of 4-year-olds were in a preschool. The report was edited by Drs. Ellen C. Frede and W. Steven Barnett.

It said that while attending pre-school “is increasingly seen as a middle-class essential,” many children do not attend, and most programs other than Head Start and state-funded pre-K are “educationally weak and ineffective.”

From 1991 to 2005, participation rates increased for all ethnic groups, but Hispanic children had by far the lowest pre-K participation rate. African Americans had the highest participation rates, the study said.

During that time, the percentage of White 4 year olds who went to preschool rose from 59 to 69 percent. The rate for African-American 4 year olds rose from 68 to 75 percent, while the rate for Hispanic 4-year olds rose from 50 to 59 percent for Hispanic. In the “other” category, including Asian Americans and American Indians, the figure rose from 62 to 81 percent.

For 3 year olds, from 1991 to 2005 the percentage for White children remained at 44 percent. Preschool enrollment increased from 44 to 53 percent for African-American children; 21 to 31 percent for Hispanic; 43 to 47 percent for “other” children.

The report said the ethnic differences “are not necessarily due to cultural differences in attitudes toward preschool education programs.”

“Ethnic groups differ from each other in many other ways that can influence pre-K participation rate,” the report said. It said those factors included income, family size, family structure, parents’ education and location.

The report said that a survey of 1,000 Hispanic families across the country found that 75 percent considered it “very important” that children attend pre-kindergarten, and 95 percent said attending pre-kindergarten was an advantage for school success.

Those results suggest that lack of access, the report said, not desire or knowledge of the advantages was probably the main reason Hispanic children were not attending preschool at the rates other ethnic groups were. “However, for public policy purposes it useful to know how attendance varies by ethnic group even if the differences result from other factors,” the report said.

“Pre-K participation in the United States remains highly unequal,” said Barnett, who is NIEER director. “The rising tide of preschool education participation has not lifted all boats equally and the factors that predicted inequality in 1991 still predict inequality in 2005.”

He said preschool plays an increasingly vital role in preparing children for school and life, affecting educational achievement, earnings, health, and even crime and delinquency. Recent research demonstrates that all children can benefit from good preschool education, said Barnett.

The report also found:

  • Preschool participation increased at the same pace for children whether or not their mothers held jobs outside the home.

 Child-care needs were secondary to the increased demand for the advantages of early education.

  • Children in families with annual incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 have the lowest participation rates at age 4.
  • Finding private preschools as good as Head Start and other public child-development programs is difficult, presenting a challenge for middle-income families to obtain and pay for a quality program
  • Participation rates for 4-year-olds with employed mothers rose from 61 percent in 1991 to 74 percent in 2005.
  • All regions progressed but the West and Midwest fell behind the Northeast and South. Four-old participation rate increases from 1991-2005, by region: Northeast – 63 to 77, South – 57 to 71 percent; Midwest – 61 to 66 percent and West- 58 to 64 percent.

To see the report log on to


–Diverse Online Staff

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