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Latino Children Excel in Florida Early Care and Education Programs

By Arya Ansari, 2014 Summer Research Fellow, and Michael López, Ph.D., Co-Principal Investigator

The most disadvantaged children in the U.S. enter kindergarten almost two years behind their more advantaged peers in early academic skills, such as vocabulary and math, that are foundational for later school success. Unfortunately, once children fall behind, they often stay behind.

For these reasons, policymakers, researchers, educators, and parents have a growing interest in early care and education (ECE) programs in general, and preschool programs in particular, as a means of promoting (and sustaining) children’s early school success.

Latinos are of particular interest, as preschool programs can be their first formal exposure to a new culture and the English language. However, nearly six in 10 Latino children are not enrolled in preschool the two years before kindergarten, while four in five enter school unable to recognize all 26 letters of the English alphabet.

A new brief from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families, Preparing Low-Income Latino Children for Kindergarten and Beyond: How Children in Miami’s Publicly-Funded Preschool Programs Fare, examines this issue and provides promising new evidence that low-income Latino children who attend public school-based pre-K or center-based care enter school ready to learn and continue to do well through the end of the third grade. These findings are particularly important given the growing body of knowledge that children’s early developmental outcomes are related to their later life success.

ECE Makes a Difference for Latino Kids

Our new study used data from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) and examined the early school success of 11,894 low-income Latino children in Miami-Dade County, Florida who attended two types of publicly-funded preschool programs at age four: public school-based pre-K or center-based care. On average, the Latino children in the publicly-funded ECE programs performed well in terms of their kindergarten entry pre-academic skills, social and behavioral skills, and early English proficiency. Moreover, nine in 10 Latino children were passing state-administered assessments of reading comprehension during third grade and, on average, Latino children demonstrated strong end-of-year grades.

Both children who attended public-school based programs and those in subsidized center-based care entered school ready to learn. We did find that Latino children in the MSRP who attended public school-based pre-K entered kindergarten with higher pre-academic skills, social behavior, and English proficiency as compared with their Latino classmates who attended subsidized center-based care. Though the vast majority of Latino children in the MSRP fared well in third grade, those who attended public school-based pre-K performed somewhat higher than those in center-based care on academic outcomes. Specifically, these Latino children were found to be more likely to pass state-administered assessments of reading comprehension and to have a higher end-of-year third-grade GPA as compared with their Latino classmates who attended center-based care in the community.

The Implications of this Work

Low-income Latino children in Miami who attend public school-based pre-K or center-based care enter kindergarten ready to learn, and their success tends to continue through third grade. However, we need more research to examine these associations in other parts of the U.S. Also, while this study included children in public school-based pre-K and center-based care, it did not include Latino children served by Head Start, family child care, or parental care— three early cares and education options for Latino families. This study, therefore, could not compare Latino children who attended any formal preschool program (such as Head Start or non-center-based care) to those who were not enrolled the year before kindergarten.

Continued research is also needed to better understand which program features were most strongly associated with differences in children’s academic outcomes. Of particular interest are the roles of language of instruction, classroom quality, curriculum, teacher-child interactions, and teacher pay and education. Prior research has demonstrated the effectiveness of parent education programs for Latino parents of young children in helping parents foster early learning.

The population of Latino children in the U.S. is projected to grow at a fast pace through 2060. How we academically prepare these children has far reaching and lasting implications, not only for themselves and their families, but for the future of the country as a whole.

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