Successful graduation rates, decent paying jobs, whether or not someone has a bank account and even future crime statistics can all be linked to a quality start in early education.
In reality, a significant percentage of black children don’t get to reap the benefits of quality early education in their neighborhoods. Access to quality education is the key to bountiful early beginnings, and that’s just not the reality for many African American children in the United States. The sad thing is that these exact statements can be applied to any level of education for black children. However, the foundation is being laid for students in early education. It’s possible that if early educators get the game right, we could change the fate of a black child’s entire academic career! The crisis in black education is the base, a lack in quality early education.
In today’s world, kindergarten isn’t what we remember. It’s no longer filled with story time and recess, kindergarten is much more academically focused. Children have to have a certain level of readiness when they enter kindergarten, what we typically thought of as the beginning of any child’s academic career. Interestingly enough however, by the time children even reach this point, there is already an educational disparity between races. Literacy levels for black children are about half that of their white peers at the entry of kindergarten. Where does the difference start?
On average, less than 50% of African American children attended a high quality center-based early education program before the age of 5. This includes a child’s early educational experiences from infancy. For young children, the biggest factor in school readiness is quality, and those numbers are disappointing. This means that only half of our black children are ready for kindergarten at its start, and the opportunity gap widens from there. The opportunity gap in this country has decreased among all racial groups in the last decade; however African Americans have had the slowest rate of improvement. It starts early and never changes.
Here’s the bottom line, quality early education sets up a child for the rest of their life. Infants who attend quality center-based care enjoy greater cognitive development. Notable social and emotional improvements have been reported for black children who attend Head Start. There are fewer instances of hyperactivity, behavioral problems and aggression among Head Start 4 year olds and parents also report positive home/school relationships and relationships among peers with this same group. African American children benefit substantially from preschool, but aren’t given the same opportunity.
I'm sure most of us share the idea that the solution is actually simple; increase the quality! But there’s more to it. For starters, there needs to be a professionalization of the field. I have several advanced degrees. When I teach, yes TEACH children, I am including my professional expertise and evidence based practice. I don’t just wipe noses! This type of professionalization among educational colleagues and parents will force early educators to step up their game when it comes to what they have vowed to do on a daily basis. And yes, teachers in urban areas do tend to be poorer. These are the people who are teaching our brown skinned babies. However, no one will care more about this crisis than black people. We need entrepreneurs to not only open up daycares, but we need for them to care about the curriculum that’s implemented throughout the day. We need more black teachers, who go back into neighborhoods with children who look like them and hold them to a higher standard. Standards that are achievable given the right tools. We also need more black professors, to train our future educators, reaching beyond simple “cultural context” and digging deeper into the real state of what it means to be a black child caught in an American educational system.
I am an early educator. I read picture books, give hugs and wipe noses. But I also walk into my classroom everyday with the mindset that what I am doing could mean freedom for the black kids I teach. It could mean future financial stability or if they walk across a graduation stage. I go in with a real understanding of ethnic differences. I involve the entire family system, because I know that the black child needs an entire village behind them supporting and rooting for their success. I take what I do seriously. I am the quality black children need, because I realize the lack of quality black education, at any level, is killing our communities.