Preschool and school readiness : experiences of children with non-English-speaking parents
Many children begin school unprepared to meet its academic requirements. If this school readiness gap is not addressed, it can be a precursor to continuing low achievement. One promising approach to this problem is to provide high-quality early learning opportunities to low-income children. Many publicly funded early care and education programs in California target subsidies specifically to low-income children to encourage their participation. The children of immigrant parents constitute a large subset of disadvantaged children, and of special concern are linguistically isolated children, that is, children who encounter little or no English in their homes, who are most likely to be classified as English learners when they enter school. About half of preschool-age children in California are children of immigrants, and about 20 percent are linguistically isolated. However, we lack information on the early care and education experiences of children of immigrants, and particularly those who are linguistically isolated. What are the characteristics of this subgroup? What kind of early care and education do they receive? Do they use nonparental care at different rates than other children? What is the relationship between their participation in center-based preschool programs and their academic skills upon entering school? This report examines these questions by focusing on the early care and education experiences and the kindergarten readiness skills of four-year-old children in both California and the United States as a whole. We find that linguistically isolated children in California, observed in the year before they are eligible to enter kindergarten, have similar background characteristics as linguistically isolated children nationally. They are more likely than other subgroups of children to be disadvantaged, as evidenced by low family income and low maternal education levels, and they are predominantly Hispanic. Our findings indicate that most linguistically isolated children are eligible for publicly funded preschool in the year before they enter kindergarten, and we show that most who use nonparental care participate in publicly funded programs. Although linguistically isolated children use any nonparental early care and education arrangements at lower rates than other children, almost two-thirds of these children in California in nonparental care use center-based care as their primary nonparental care arrangement, a proportion similar to that of children of non-immigrant parents. However, in the United States as a whole, linguistically isolated children in nonparental care are less likely to use center-based care than other children. Nonetheless, once we account for differences in such background characteristics as household income, we do not find differences between linguistically isolated children and other children in their use of various early care and education arrangements in the year before they enter kindergarten. This suggests that the differences in participation in nonparental care can be explained by differences in child and family characteristics that are correlated with linguistic isolation, such as low income and low maternal education levels. A common reason for participation in center-based preschool programs is to improve school readiness skills. We find that linguistically isolated children who participate in center-based care in the United States in the year before they enter kindergarten significantly improve their early reading skills compared to those who do not participate. However, the size of the gains are similar to those of children of U.S. natives, hence the gap between achievement levels of the two subgroups does not appreciably change. School readiness gaps, then, may not narrow unless programs are targeted to isolated children. We do not find similar improvements for mathematics skills, which suggests that center-based programs serving linguistically isolated children are missing the opportunity to promote readiness in mathematics. Our investigation of the relationship between the quality of center-based early learning settings and school http://www.ppic.org/main/home.asp Preschool and School Readiness 3 entry skills did not find differences in reading and mathematics scores at kindergarten entry by quality of care; however, this may be because the commonly used quality measure we analyze does not capture differences in program quality that contribute to the outcomes we examine. These findings have several implications for California policymakers. Although California enrolls many linguistically isolated preschool-age children in center-based care, one-third of linguistically isolated children do not participate in these programs. Increasing the number enrolled in center-based programs such as the State Preschool Program is likely to help prepare more linguistically isolated children for formal schooling. However, improving the quality of mathematics preparation through focused curricula and teacher professional development may also be needed. Because preschool alone is not sufficient to close school readiness gaps, policymakers should consider preschool programs as one strategy in a set of interventions to promote school readiness among linguistically isolated children. Finally, continued efforts are needed to understand how best to measure aspects of center-based care quality that are meaningful for promoting children’s developmental gains during the preschool years.