By 2030, about one in four children in the United States under the age of 8 will be Hispanic. But these children are often not being served effectively by current preschool programs, which may lack Spanish-speaking teachers or culturally appropriate materials and activities.
Increased enrollments of Hispanic children in early education programs reflect demographic trends, but Hispanics are the least likely of all ethnic groups to attend preschool. The reasons include a dearth of publicly funded preschool programs in some Hispanic neighborhoods and the prohibitive cost of some private or family child-care centers. A 2005 RAND Corporation report showed that Hispanic preschoolers are also less likely than children of other ethnicities to attend centers that meet quality benchmarks, such as low child-to-staff ratios and teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
Hispanic children overall trail their non-Hispanic peers on a range of school readiness skills when they enter preschool. The fact that many do not have a firm grasp of English presents another challenge, with achievement gaps cutting across class lines. More research is needed to identify the characteristics of pre-k programs that are most effective for Hispanic children, but full-day programs, summer programs, and programs with a strong focus on literacy all show promise. There are also early indications that bilingual instruction for Hispanics with limited English skills is preferable to full English immersion strategies.
Having bilingual teachers on staff may benefit Hispanic children because Spanish-speakers can communicate better with children who are not fluent in English. They can also speak to parents and inspire confidence in the program.
Some advocates have suggested that policies requiring pre-k teachers to have more formal education may push Hispanics out of the workforce. In a 2005 report, the National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics recommended grants for universities to develop more preschool teacher preparation programs, along with a bilingual certification for early childhood education teachers and a reasonable timetable for teachers to earn college degrees.