The authors examine black, white, and Hispanic children's differing experiences in early childhood care and education and explore links between these experiences and racial and ethnic gaps in school readiness.
Children who attend center care or preschool programs enter school more ready to learn, but both the share of children enrolled in these programs and the quality of care they receive differ by race and ethnicity. Black children are more likely to attend preschool than white children, but may experience lower-quality care. Hispanic children are much less likely than white children to attend preschool. The types of preschool that children attend also differ. Both black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children to attend Head Start.
Public funding of early childhood care and education, particularly Head Start, is already reducing ethnic and racial gaps in preschool attendance. The authors consider whether further increases in enrollment and improvements in quality would reduce school readiness gaps. They conclude that incremental changes in enrollment or quality will do little to narrow gaps. But substantial increases in Hispanic and black children's enrollment in preschool, alone or in combination with increases in preschool quality, have the potential to decrease school readiness gaps. Boosting enrollment of Hispanic children may be especially beneficial given their current low rates of enrollment.
Policies that target low-income families (who are more likely to be black or Hispanic) also look promising. For example, making preschool enrollment universal for three- and four- year-old children in poverty and increasing the quality of care could close up to 20 percent of the black-white school readiness gap and up to 36 percent of the Hispanic-white gap.