“Early childhood education is a strong predictor of kindergarten readiness, and one of the most common and policy-relevant out-of-home experiences that young children have. However, there are sizable differences in the availability of high-quality early learning programs and in enrollment between children from lower-income families, families with parents with lower levels of educational attainment, and families in which the parents are not proficient in English and their more advantaged peers. And that availability gap is compounded by a corresponding disparity in the quality of programs that are available to children from families with different income levels."1
Early learning programs are the foundation of students’ learning. Research has shown positive associations between participation in early learning programs and children’s cognitive skills.2, 3 This domain, Equitable Access to High-Quality4 early learning programs, is examined in relation to one indicator—access to and participation in high-quality early learning programs—using data from the Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the 2016 National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2016) and the Current Population Survey (CPS). These indicators are based on recommendations in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) framework. The NASEM report notes that some of the recommended indicators have limitations. Currently, the Equity in Education Dashboard provides data based on published products. Because data in our published products do not always perfectly align with the recommended indicators in the NASEM report, we have indicated where our data differ from recommendations in the report. More findings will be added to the Equity in Education Dashboard over time. Whereas the NASEM report uses access to and enrollment in “licensed pre-k programs”, this domain uses access to and participation in early learning programs. Although neither CPS nor ECPP-NHES contain information on availability of care or the quality of the instruction or care provided by any child care environment, these studies do provide useful information about children’s participation in nonparental care arrangements and early schooling (including, for example, relative care, nonrelative care, center-based care, and prekindergarten programs), as well as the parent respondent's perceptions about access to good choices for care and education programs, along with difficulty finding care and education, all of which are important constructs related to access to high-quality early learning programs. Group differences in this domain are examined across ten educational equity dimensions: age of child, sex,5 race/ethnicity, locale, socioeconomic status (SES), parents’ highest level of educational attainment, household type, parents’ employment status, mother’s employment status, and family income, wherever the data allow.6
The Access to High-Quality Early Learning Programs indicator examines two constructs: (1) the availability of early care and education programs, measured indirectly by parents’ perceptions of the availability of good choices and difficulty finding child care options (including the reasons for the difficulty and cost of enrollment); and (2) children’s participation in various child care or early learning programs.
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Monitoring Educational Equity (pp. 7-8). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25389.
2 Camilli, G., Vargas, S., Ryan, S., and Barnett, W.S. (2010). Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Early Education Interventions on Cognitive and Social Development. Teachers College Record, 112(3), 579–620. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146811011200303.
3 Duncan, G.J., and Magnuson, K. (2013). Investing in Preschool Programs. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(2): 109–132. http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jep.27.2.109.
4 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Monitoring Educational Equity framework refers to “high-quality” early learning programs. Because there are no national data currently available that address quality, this domain uses an indirect measure of parents’ perceptions of the availability of good choices for child care and early learning programs. However, it should be kept in mind that parents’ perceptions are influenced by their child’s specific care and education needs. For example, a parent who regularly works a night shift may indicate that he or she has good choices if care is routinely available overnight, irrespective of whether that care would be defined as high quality according to standardized measures of quality such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale.
5 This domain presents a compilation of data from various sources crossing several periods of time. Within each indicator, the term “gender” or “sex” is used as presented by the original data source at the time.
6 Not all equity dimensions, such as race/ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, English learner status, and disability status, are examined for all constructs.