Washington, DC—Preliminary findings indicate that states are lagging woefully behind in taking advantage of opportunities to better serve diverse student populations, particularly Latinos and English language learners (ELLs), according to a report released today by NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. The report,Responding to the Needs of Young Latino Children: State Efforts to Build Comprehensive Early Learning Systems, outlines unprecedented developments in U.S. policies and federal funding that would help states improve their early childhood education programs.
Last year marked a great investment in early childhood education programs, amounting to more than $4 billion in federal funding. If approved by Congress, the Early Learning Challenge Fund would provide another $8 billion throughout the next eight years toward competitive grants for states to improve the quality of their birth-to-five programs. These improvements would affect Early Head Start, Head Start, and preschool programs, programs in which Latino children are underrepresented or not well served.
“Hispanic children make up nearly a quarter of the child population in the country and are the fastest-growing group of children, yet Latino families have the least access to high-quality early childhood education,” said NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía. “We have an opportunity here to invest in all of our kids at the earliest age, when it can make a real difference in closing the horrendous achievement gap we see in high school and beyond.”
The report notes that of the eight states where interviews were conducted with members of state Early Childhood Advisory Councils, researchers, and state agency leaders—all of which have high Latino populations—most have few benchmarks to measure success for ELL students.
One exception and model for other states is California, where the state’s Department of Education, urged by ELL advocates, defined guidelines designed to “assist classroom teachers in their understanding of children’s progress toward English-language proficiency.” Few states, however, have had resources to address this issue and little will to design culturally competent professional development systems. When standards have been developed, they were done with little Latino involvement.
NCLR made the following recommendations in the report: Congress must support the development of better measures to identify ELL students, require states to develop learning benchmarks for these students, require mechanisms for recruiting and training culturally and linguistically diverse professional staff, and require the inclusion of ELL experts in the creation of standards, among other fixes.
“We cannot miss this important opportunity to transform early education programs,” Murguía said. “States must work to develop early learning programs that take into account the needs of all children, including English language learners.”