Published Date: 02/12/20
Children of all ages deserve an equitable education. Regardless of race, economic class, or home environment, every child deserves access to quality curriculum and adults who are compassionate and well-trained in all aspects of childhood development. Three to five-year-old children do not all have equal opportunities in their home environments. Although some children have an adult who talks to them to develop their oral language, praises them to form a positive self-identity, and establishes rules for behavior and social interactions, others do not. A quality preschool provides instruction that fills those gaps so that under-resourced children can perform at the same level as children from environments with more resources when they go to kindergarten. Also, the socialization skills and emotional regulation strategies that are taught in the best of preschools help all children be successful in school and social environments.
What does equity in preschools mean?
Not all preschools are created the same when it comes to the quality and quantity of resources, staff, and accessibility for all children. State-funded preschools vary widely in the allocation of resources from district to district. One school may have plenty of games, manipulatives, activities and playground equipment, while a nearby district that allocated less money to its preschool program may have little more than crayons and a swing set. In addition, private preschools may have outstanding resources and staff, but be too expensive for the children who might benefit from them the most.
Equitably trained staff
One of the greatest challenges for preschools is to retain highly trained staff. The high turnover rate and low pay of preschool teachers contribute to the issue of inequity between programs. Some areas have required preschool teachers to have college degrees; however, studies have shown that this requirement contributes to racial inequity in teachers, as fewer preschool teachers of color have college degrees. Without college degrees or teacher certifications, it falls upon the district or state, if publicly funded, or the individual school, if privately funded, to provide high quality professional development for its preschool teachers. This training becomes another fiscal allotment issue.
All preschool teachers need training on curriculum, pedagogy, and child development, as well as how trauma and poverty impact brain development. All preschools should be safe places for children, but they also should be places where the adults supervising the children know how to help them grow and learn. The expectation of learning academic, physical, social, and emotional skills is what differentiates a preschool from a daycare environment.
Racial equity in students and staff
Research shows that children who are taught by diverse teachers and interact with other children from different races and backgrounds are less likely to develop a prejudice against people who are different from themselves. Racial inequity was found to be an unintentional consequence of federally funded preschools, such as Head Start, which target children who live in poverty. A conscious effort to open state-funded preschool enrollment to include children from middle class backgrounds, which California has done with their state preschool program, can widen the diversity in preschool enrollment. Another strategy to increase student diversity is to centralize preschool campuses and provide transportation instead of placing them in neighborhood schools that have experienced de facto segregation caused by white flight and changes in neighborhood economic stability.
Districts should be mindful of hiring teachers of color. Children benefit from having role models to which they can relate racially. Whether or not the preschool staff reflects the racial makeup of the student body, all teachers can benefit from additional training to identify their own implicit biases and how those biases impact the way they teach and discipline children.
In the book chapter, “Race, Education, and the Pursuit of Equity in the Twenty-First Century”, Pedro Negura noted that racial inequity is multi-faceted. He referred to the different inequities that have been mentioned here as “gaps” which also contribute to racial inequality.
- gaps in academic performance are closely tied to unequal access to quality early childhood education (the preparation gap),
- inequities in school funding (the allocation gap), and
- differences in the amount of support that well-educated, affluent parents can provide to their children as compared to poorer, less-educated parents (the parent gap).
- Research also suggests that gaps in academic outcomes are sometimes related to strained relations between students and their teachers and may be influenced by lower expectations and bias, particularly toward poor and minority students (the teacher-student gap).
What role can parents play in equitable preschools?
The best advocate for children should be their parents; however, many parents do not know how they can help their child be successful in school. Some of the obstacles to parent involvement include language barriers, parent work schedules that conflict with preschool class times and distrust and feelings of inadequacy based on any previous negative school experiences the parents had themselves. To increase equitable preschool education, schools must support parents and include them as partners in the children's educational experience.
Parents may not have adequate parenting skills. One solution is to have planned parent involvement sessions that are offered on a flexible schedule such as early in the morning, during a lunch break, or in the evening. Parenting classes on such topics as anger management, organization, and establishing behavioral expectations can be offered in short one hour sessions to give them the information they can implement the very same day. Schools can utilize social media platforms such as Facebook Live or other video platforms to share YouTube videos on parenting best practices. Developing a positive, non-judgmental relationship with parents will make them more likely to support your goals for the education of their children. Using email to send video links is an easy way to communicate when parents cannot come to school in person.
A school newsletter or bulletin board can include a section for parent education, too. “Tips for Parents” are popular additions to the usual menu and calendar information in a weekly newsletter. Information about everything from nutrition to the importance of sleep for preschoolers can be useful information for parents.
Literacy classes for non-English speaking parents help them learn to read along with their children. If Spanish or another language is primarily spoken in the home, the parents struggle to help their children with their schoolwork. Investing in parent literacy has a direct correlation to student English Language Learner's success.
Parent Social Networking Group
Establishing a parent group brings parents of preschool children together in a social setting to get to know each other and the teachers in a non-threatening way. Single parents and grandparents who are raising preschoolers will appreciate discovering that other parents have similar struggles and concerns. They will develop a stronger sense of community. This sense of community benefits the child by encouraging equitable relationships with others in the neighborhood as well as in the classroom.
A great way to solicit parent involvement is to ask for volunteers. Parents who are available to come to school during the day may help by reading a story to the class, being an extra set of hands when distributing art supplies or being an extra set of eyes to monitor the playground. Also, if they have a unique hobby or skill, like playing a musical instrument, demonstrating that skill for the class helps build a positive relationship between the parent and the school. Parents subconsciously like a school that appreciates them and includes them in the process of teaching their children.
Parents who participate in parenting classes, volunteer to help in their child’s class, join preschool social groups and read school newsletters have a better understanding of how to help their child in school. Participation helps parents learn the procedures and expectations of the school. Then they can feel like a partner in their child’s education rather than an outsider. The more inclusive a school can be towards its parents, the more equitable the education it can provide for its students.
Research supports parent inclusion in schools, regardless of the age of the child.
Equitable preschools should be a goal not only in California but throughout the United States. As stated, it is a multi-faceted issue that requires funding, training, parent support, and deliberate awareness on the part of the preschool directors to seek qualified personnel from diverse backgrounds and accept students regardless of their race or economic class. We should continue the discussion to support inclusive environments for our children that will positively impact their future success in school and life as a global citizen.
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