Minority and low-income students are less likely to have consistent access to effective teachers between preschool and the third grade than students from high-income households, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C-based think tank.
Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath, a researcher at CAP and a co-author of the report said that research on brain development shows that kids are learning a lot during that time period and gaining foundational skills that they build on throughout the rest of their academic careers.
“So, having continuity across that time period is really important so that the skills are building on each other,” said Herzfeldt-Kamprath.
The report found that more than 60 percent of children in prekindergarten that come from households earning more than $100,000 have access to highly educated teachers (a bachelor’s degree or higher), while about half (52 percent) of the students in prekindergarten that come from households earning less than $20,000 have access those teachers.
“As children progress through elementary school, they are slightly more likely to have a highly educated teacher,” the report said. “This is particularly true for children from higher income families: 60 percent of the highest income second-graders have a teacher with a master’s degree compared to only 46 percent of kindergarteners in the same income group.”
However only about half of second-graders from households earning less than $50,000 have access to highly educated teachers.
This finding is particularly troubling, because studies show that African American children are more likely to be enrolled in prekindergarten or child care centers that receive food subsidies and are more likely to attend schools in poor neighborhoods than their White peers. According to the report, 70 percent of Black children are enrolled in such programs compared to 28 percent of White children.
Black children are also more likely to have teachers whose household income is below $50,000 when compared to their White and Asian peers, according to the report.
“In the early childhood field, studies have found both direct and indirect links between teachers’ pay and the quality of education provided, with comparatively better-compensated educators creating a higher-quality classroom environment,” the report said.
The report highlighted a number of priorities including increasing access to high-quality prekindergarten programs, raising teacher pay, promoting collaborative professional development and in-service training, and school-level support.
“These supports should include both infrastructure supports—such as up-to-date textbooks, technology, and developmentally appropriate classroom materials—as well as environmental supports, including teacher-planning time during the school day; adequate teacher and school-administrator compensation; and a school community that empowers teachers to be effective,” the report said. “Additionally, teachers need supportive school leaders; access to community social services to address the broader needs of children and families; and alternative approaches to classroom and school discipline.
Herzfeldt-Kamprath said that parents need to focus on seeking early learning opportunities and high quality childcare centers that offer developmentally appropriate practices as part of their curriculum.
“The main takeaway is that we know that learning starts very early for kids and building those foundational skills is hugely important and parents can play as big a role as teachers can,” said Herzfeldt-Kamprath. “Ensuring that they have access from birth is really critical piece.”
Rebecca Ullrich, who also co-authored the report, said that parents should look for schools or childcare centers that are making an effort to engage and involve families in their child’s learning.
“Preschool itself isn’t necessarily a one-off shot,” said Herzfeldt-Kamprath. “We need continuity between prekindergarten and the K-12 system to ensure that kids who get a good quality early education build on the skills that they learned rather than going from a system that takes care of their social and emotional development and their academic skills to an environment that does not necessarily provide the same support that they were receiving.”