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Language, Literacy Seen as Barriers to Early Education for Immigrants

Immigrant families often struggle to take advantage of maximizing the benefits of early-childhood education opportunities for their children, even as many states work to expand and improve such programs, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute finds.

Immigrant parents who lack English-proficiency and oftentimes, functional literacy in their home language—coupled with scant numbers of early-childhood programs with the capacity to offer them more than cursory information in a language they can understand—present nearly "insurmountable barriers" to ensuring their children benefit from early-childhood education and are as kindergarten-ready as many of their peers, the report states. Furthermore, the report states, with no dedicated public sources of funding to explicitly support language and cultural services for immigrant parents, it's rare for most early-childhood providers to engage those families effectively. And those that are able to meet that goal constantly face the challenge of raising private money.

The report makes a strong case for addressing the gaps in services and programming for immigrant families—especially with one in four young children in the United States (those between the ages of 0-8) now residing in a household where at least one parent is foreign-born. (See chart below). In California, young children of immigrants now constitute nearly half of all children between the ages of 0-8.

Thumbnail image for childrenofimmigrants.JPG

Another barrier, the report contends, is a lack of data at the federal, state, and school-district levels that would help plan and develop programs to meet the needs of immigrant families and their children. For example, few state or local early-childhood programs collect data on childrens' status as a second-language learner, despite the early-childhood years leading up to kindergarten being the most critical for language development.

The authors offer a number of recommended solutions. Among them:

  • Making adult English-language courses more widely available, specifically targeting the immigrant parents of young children;
  • Ensuring that engaging parents and offering immigrant families language and other support services become part of states' priorities as they invest in and expand early-childhood education programs; and 
  • Expanding data collection prior to kindergarten on the needs of immigrant families.

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