enrollment in an early education program, number of NAEYC accredited programs, waiting list for child care vouchers
School readiness refers to children 0-4 years of age and their level of preparedness for entering kindergarten.
Why does school readiness matter?
Research has increasingly demonstrated that the achievement gap, defined as the disparity in educational outcomes between students of different demographic backgrounds (e.g. low-income minority students versus higher-income, non-minority students), actually begins before children enter kindergarten. By examining the school readiness of children four years and younger, it may be possible to better understand the causes of the achievement gap and how to improve it.
Significant cognitive and social development takes place between birth and the age of five, but this development has been demonstrated to vary across population subgroups. For example, one study found that by the age of two, children from lower income families may already be six months behind those of higher income families in terms of vocabulary skills (1). Vocabulary size influences literacy and communication skills, which are strong predictors of long-term academic and economic achievement (2).
Other research has shown that participation in an early childhood education program bolstered vocabulary growth considerably (3). Furthermore, there is evidence that suggests that children who attend early education programs are more likely to both graduate from high school and attend a college or university when compared to their peers who do not participate in early childhood educational programming (4).
Based on the extensive research that has been conducted, early childhood educational programming could play an important role in closing the achievement gap in urban communities and ensuring that children enter kindergarten with the preparation necessary to succeed academically and economically in the long-term. In doing so, the benefits of early childhood education could have long-lasting positive impacts for both the individuals and the community as a whole.
How do we measure school readiness?
The Public Policy Center at Umass Dartmouth (PPC) uses three indicators to measure accessibility and participation in early childhood education programs. Measuring the proportion of children ages 3-4 who are enrolled in an education program will reveal the degree to which children are participating and benefiting from early childhood educational programming. Data regarding this information is obtained from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates (Table S1401).
The second indicator used at the Public Policy Center is number of preschool sites that have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). While preschool accreditation is not mandatory, NAEYC accreditation demonstrates that a site has met a rigorous set of standards and criteria related to the curriculum, teachers, and family engagement. The PPC assumes that a high number of NAEYC sites suggests that there are more opportunities for children to access high-quality, outcomes-based early education.
Third, to measure accessibility of these programs, the Urban Initiative measures the number of families on the waiting list for subsidized child care. The size of this list indicates the degree to which there are children in need of early childhood education and child care whose families presumably are unable to access such services without financial assistance. This information is provided by People Acting in Community Endeavors (PACE), which administers child care vouchers for income-eligible families in southeastern Massachusetts.
How is Fall River doing?
1. Percent of children 3-4 years of age enrolled in an education program: 52.1%
Source: 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates (Table S1401)
Of Fall River’s estimated 2,648 children aged 3-4, 52.1 percent (1,379 children) are enrolled in an education program. The city’s proportion of students participating in preschool is less than that of Massachusetts (58.7%) and slightly higher than New Bedford (47.5%).
2. Number of NAEYC-accredited sites: 8
There are 8 preschool sites that have achieved NAEYC accreditation in Fall River. Based on a population of 2,648 children ages 3-4 in 2016, this translates to a ratio of one NAEYC accredited site per 331 preschool-aged children. When compared to New Bedford, where there is a ratio of one NAEYC site to every 204 children 3-4 years of age, Fall River appears to have a lower number of preschool options.
3. Number of families on the wait-list for child care vouchers: 1,131
According to data provided by PACE in March 2012, there are 1,131 Fall River families on the waiting list for child care vouchers (7). Based on data collected in the 2010 Census, this figure represents 24.3 percent of all Fall River families with children under the age of 6. Fall River has a lower percentage of families with children under 6 years of age requesting child care vouchers than New Bedford, where nearly 40 percent (39.8%) do. Both cities, for their size, have a relatively high amount of families requesting child care vouchers, which is shown in the large size of the waiting lists.
How is New Bedford doing?
1. Percent of children ages 3-4 enrolled in preschool: 53.2%
Source: 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates (Table S1401)
Of New Bedford’s 2,650 preschool-aged children, 47.5 percent (1,259 children) are enrolled in an early education program. The city of New Bedford’s proportion of students participating in preschool is less than that of Massachusetts (58.7%) and also less than that of Fall River (52.1%).
2. Number of NAEYC-accredited sites: 13
There are thirteen preschool sites with NAEYC accreditation in New Bedford. Based on a population of 2,650 children 3-4 years of age in 2016, this translates to a ratio of one NAEYC site per 204 children ages 3-4. When compared to Fall River, where there is a ratio of one NAEYC site to every 331 children 3-4 years of age, New Bedford appears to have a higher number of preschool options.
3. Number of families on the wait-list for child care vouchers: 1,140
According to data provided by PACE in March 2012, there are 1,140 New Bedford families on the waiting list for child care vouchers (7). Based on data collected in the 2010 Census, this figure represents 39.8% of all New Bedford families with children under the age of 6. New Bedford has a higher percentage of families with children under 6 years of age requesting child care vouchers than Fall River, where almost one-fourth (24.7%) do. Both cities, for their size, have a relatively high amount of families requesting child care vouchers, which is shown in the large size of the waiting lists.
What’s being done to address school readiness, and where can I learn more?
The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care provides child care vouchers to low-income families. To learn more about eligibility or how to apply, click here.
The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts convenes the Early Literacy Consortium, a group of programs and organizations working to improve the quality of and access to early childhood education, with a particular emphasis on literacy. To learn more, click here.
At the state level, Massachusetts received an Early Learning Challenge grant from the federal government that will give the state $50 million over the next four years with which to implement a comprehensive plan to expand and improve the quality of early childhood education. Read the grant application here. Along with this effort, the state has developed the MA Kindergarten Entry Assessment (MKEA) with which to measure school readiness uniformly. It is now being piloted in 24 school districts (Fall River is not among them).
A great resource for people concerned with school readiness in Massachusetts is Strategies for Children, an advocacy and policy organization that has done work and research aimed at promoting access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities for all children.
Data sources and methods
(1) Stanford University’s Language Gap Children of Low Income and High Income Families Report
(2) Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Report
(3) Early Childhood Education Zone’s Understanding the Importance of Language Development Article
(4) The University of Southern Mississippi’s The Relationship Between Early Childhood Education and Student Success Report
(5) 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates (Table S1401)
(6) The NAEYC’s Accredited Program Search Tool
(7) 2012 Fall River and New Bedford PACE Child Care Works’ Child Care Voucher Data
(8) The Umass Dartmouth Public Policy Center defines preschool-aged children to be 3-4 years of age. This is in accordance to the data found on the United States Census Bureau.