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Preschool Attendance: More Likely in Mexico Than in the United States

A new research brief about children in immigrant families contains some interesting observations that indicate education policy can make a difference in whether children of Mexican heritage go to preschool.

The researchers from the State University of New York at Albany who wrote the brief say that in Mexico, where preschool is free, 81 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2005. By contrast, in 2004, 55 percent of children in Mexican immigrant families living in the United States participated in preschool. (Preschool is NOT free in most places in the United States, though the researchers don't say this explicitly.)

I find it particularly interesting that the preschool enrollment rates in Mexico were also higher than those for children in white U.S. native-born families; 71 percent of children in those families went to preschool. You can find this information on page 7 of the 14-page brief, "Children in Immigrant Families--The U.S. and 50 States: National Origins, Language, and Early Education."

The researchers cite the data in an effort to explain why "cultural preferences" are not an adequate explanation for why participation in early education programs is low among immigrant groups--particularly Latinos, though they are often given as a reason. They argue that socioeconomic barriers can account for a least one-half or perhaps the entire gap in enrollment rates between children in immigrant families from Mexico and those in white families that aren't immigrants.

The research brief draws mostly on Census 2000 data and is the first of a series of eight briefs planned by Child Trends and the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at the State University of New York at Albany about children in the United States who have at least one parent who was born in another country. These children now account for 20 percent of all children in the United States.

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