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Pre-Schools See Fewer Latinos As Economy Lags

Paresh Dave |
April 8, 2011 | 1:37 p.m. PDT

Deputy Editor

The share of Latino children in pre-school declined nationwide between 2005 and 2009, raising concerns about how kids not exposed to English-language early childhood education might fare later in life. (Creative Commons)
The share of Latino children in pre-school declined nationwide between 2005 and 2009, raising concerns about how kids not exposed to English-language early childhood education might fare later in life. (Creative Commons)

Her husband out of a job and the family's car repossessed, Ana carried on as a pedestrian, walking 20 blocks through Whittier with her four-year-old daughter to ensure she attended pre-school.

Instructor Grace Castro refused to see families left without access transportation struggle to get their young children to pre-school. She now spends $80 a week of her own salary to pick-up and drop-off a quarter of her 24 students.

Nationwide, the percentage of Latino children enrolled in pre-school significantly decreased from 2005 to 2009 as the economic recession took hold. The drop-off could have been as high as 10 percent, jeopardizing efforts to close achievement gaps in early childhood education between Latinos and other ethnic groups, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley said in a report released Friday.

Poorly-educated Latina women lost jobs at a greater rate during that period than the rest of the nation, making it difficult for families to pay for things such as gas.

“We started offering transportation,” Castro said of her pre-school. “If we didn't offer that, I don't know what would have happened to some of these children.”

In L.A. County, nearly three in five children are of Hispanic descent. By 2050, a third of all Americans will be of Latino heritage.

Castro said she didn't learn how to read or write English until the seventh grade because her parents steered her toward a Spanish focus early in life. But success in America essentially requires a strong command of English.

“If parents are pulling their kids from pre-schools, it's going to harden this achievement gap,” report co-author Bruce Fuller said.

Federal and state investment in pre-school education dramatically increased between the late 1980s and 2005. Across all groups, enrollment in pre-school took off. Many low-income families have been afforded free access to pre-school for their children.

Budget cuts, including a proposed $1.1 billion cut for the Head Start program in government shutdown budget talks Friday in Washington, D.C., have also contributed to stalling the advancement of Latino children. The cuts mean fewer subsidies, less spots at pre-schools and bigger class sizes because of elimination of other pre-schools. Nearly 60 percent of Latino families in the nation live in poverty, according to Fuller.

“Not being in pre-school might not undercut the social development of these Latino children, but it will undercut language development,” Fuller said. “It's going to be a setback for them.”

In California, early childhood education program First 5 is suing the state to block a $1 billion budget cut signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Castro recalled a 4-year-old named Diana who at the beginning of this year couldn't understand English commands such as “It's time to wash your hands.” Castro had to translate everything into Spanish until Diana started picking things up on her own.

Three months away from graduation, Diana's growth has been amazing, Castro said.

“Once they go to elementary school, it's like me trying to take a driving license test in Chinese,” Castro said. “Of course, I'm going to fail.”

One other factor working against enrollment of Latinos may be the rising anti-immigrant chatter, including Arizona's famously controversial legislation.

“There might be a parental fear with having contract with formal institutions,” Fuller said.

Castro has dealt with that first hand. She said children and parents always come in very insecure.

“Kids start flourishing once the parents feel comfortable letting go of them and they are able to communicate with me,” she said.

The report additionally raised concerns about the quality of education at preschools, suggesting more of them focus attention on boosting children’s language, pre-literacy skills and cognitive growth.

"Disparities in pre-school quality, hampering the developmental potential of Latino children, come to exacerbate learning gaps relative to middle-class white peers, even before these youngsters start school,” Fuller said.

Settling on which problems and factors are the most worrisome through further studies will be important.

"Is it differential access or differential enrollment despite equal access?,” wrote Greg Duncan, a professor of education at University of California, Irvine, in an e-mail. “Policy actions are quite different depending on the answer to that question.”

The researchers also found that the share of African-American 4-year-olds in pre-school did not decline during the recession.

The research was part of the New Journalism on Latino Children at Berkeley's Institute of Human Development, the Latino Policy Forum and the Education Writers Association.

To reach reporter Paresh Dave, click here.

Find him on Twitter: @peard33.



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