The educational system in America continues to face several challenges, one of which is meeting the needs of low income children and children of color. The result of the difficulty it faces in serving these groups can many times appear in the test scores of its elementary-aged children.
This challenge is referred to as the “achievement gap”. This gap in achievement represents the wide disparity in test performance among African American, Hispanic and low income children. Its immediate impact can be seen in such areas as lower grades, higher dropout rates and behavioral issues. There are also lifelong implications, such as limited employment opportunities and lower wages. The good news is that early childhood educators can play a role in addressing this situation. The benefits of early childhood education have been found to greatly reduce the achievement gap.
Many believe that early childhood education is the key to preventing the achievement gap. There is significant research pointing to a strong connection between the implementation of appropriate early childhood practices and a decrease in the educational achievement gap.
Good childcare and early experiences help young children build their language and literacy skills so they can enter school ready to read and succeed. Children who participate in quality programs are less likely to be held back a grade or be placed in special education programs in school. Those children demonstrate greater language development, mathematical ability, greater thinking and attention skills, and fewer behavioral problems in schools. The research also finds improved math and social skills in school (Children’s Defense Fund, 2003).
Early childhood education has always been a leader in advocating for young children and standing firm on developmentally appropriate practices. Our approach is inclusive of a child’s entire self, and respectful of the role that culture and family play in the life of a child.
Problems can appear when early childhood professionals don’t have proper training and information. Without this knowledge, they may be unaware of the issues relating to low income and children of color, as well as the true long-term implications their interactions and environment have on their future academic success.
The study of brain development also illustrates the vital role that early positive experiences have on a child. Setting the stage early can have long-lasting, positive effects on children for when they enter formal school settings. An environment that emphasizes developmentally and culturally appropriate practice is critical to forming the cognitive skills necessary for future success in the classroom.
In the end, early childhood education has been proven to make the difference in addressing the achievement gap. Although the steps may seem small, the effects are long-lasting.