Four-year-old children with parents who speak little to no English reap important benefits by participating in one year of center-based care—such as Head Start or state preschool—before starting kindergarten, a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California concludes.
Specifically, these so-called "linguistically isolated" children, who have virtually no exposure to the English language in their home and neighborhood environments, demonstrate much stronger early-reading skills than their peers who do not attend a center-based preschool program prior to starting kindergarten, the study concludes. The vast majority of these children, both in California and nationally, are Latino. The researchers did not find the same improvements for children's math skills, which "suggests that center-based programs serving linguistically isolated children are missing the opportunity to promote readiness in mathematics," according to the study's summary.
We know that Latino 3- and 4-year-olds, as a subgroup, are the least likely to participate in a high-quality early-education program, often because of a lack of access to such programs.
And though California has a higher participation rate of linguistically isolated children in its public preschool programs than the nation as a whole, the PPIC study found that one-third of the state's population of linguistically isolated 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any kind of center-based programs. In a state where roughly half of preschool-age children have immigrant parents, and about 20 percent of those are linguistically isolated, that's a lot of untapped potential.
And unfortunately, because of California's relentless budget woes, funding for state preschool—which has already taken deep spending cuts—is not likely to be on an upward trajectory.