A growing base of literature indicates that racial and ethnic bias begins to form during a child’s earliest years. As such, early childhood education (ECE) programs can serve a crucial role in developing diversity, equity, and inclusion as an element of a child’s educational experience. Unfortunately, due to the limited state and federal oversight of ECE programs and the lack of national comparative data, researchers have struggled to definitively analyze the racial makeup of ECE Programs in the United States.
Key Takeaways | Segregated from the Start: Segregation in Early Childhood & K-12 Education
To define segregation, researchers measured how much a schools’ racial composition deviates from the composition of the school system to create a dissimilarity index, an estimate that represents the share of black or Hispanic students that would need to move to achieve integration. To ensure that integration was feasible in each instance, only programs with at least five students enrolled were considered.
ECE Programs are nearly twice as likely to enroll 90-100 percent minority students than kindergarten and first grade and are less likely to meet the threshold of “somewhat integrated,” with 10-20 percent Black or Hispanic enrollment share.
Compared to all K-12 levels, ECE programs are the most segregated. As schools serve older students, they tend to become less likely to be segregated.
When comparing within early childhood education programs, home-based programs (including licensed home-based preschools, informal relative and nonrelative caregivers, and nannies) are more segregated than center-based programs.
Among home-based programs, the unlisted, informal caregiving programs are more segregated than licensed home-based programs. This is likely due to a lack of oversight in home-based ECE programs, allowing for provider biases to shape enrollment.
Regionally, the Northeast has the highest levels of segregation in ECE, with the Mid-West having lowest. However, levels of segregation within ECE programs are consistent between highly urban and highly rural areas.
Age of program enrollees is not a determining factor in levels of segregation, as programs that are birth to age three have comparable levels of segregation to programs that serve ages three to five.
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