Latino achievement gap starts before school, study says

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Latino children in Illinois are far less likely to be read to everyday
than children of other ethnicities and also far less likely to go to
preschool, according to a new study. This sets the stage for an achievement gap that exists before Latino
children enter preschool, according to the study of the New Journalism
on Latino Children, a joint project of the Latino Policy Forum and the
national Education Writers Association. Latino children in Illinois are far less likely to be read to everyday than children of other ethnicities and also far less likely to go to preschool, according to a study released today.

This sets the stage for an achievement gap that exists before Latino children enter preschool, according to the study of the New Journalism on Latino Children, a joint project of the Latino Policy Forum and the national Education Writers Association.

Language development slows for many Latino children by age 3, says Bruce Fuller, a University of California professor who co-authored the study. 

The study, based on data from 380 mothers with newborns who were interviewed a number of times over the past decade, found that Latina mothers as a whole are less educated than mothers from other ethnicities. 

As a result, they don’t always know the importance of reading to their children. How frequently a child is read to is an important factor in cognitive development and acquired literacy skills, the report states.  But only 14 percent of Latina mothers reported that they read to their child every day, compared to 40 percent of other mothers studied.

Quality preschool education could narrow the gap, says Fuller.  Over the past several decades, reports have found that the preschool benefits for Latino students were somewhat higher in terms of cognitive growth and pre-literacy skills, likely due to exposure to the English language that they wouldn’t have otherwise received at home.

Access to preschool could help to prevent early gaps in the learning and development of Latino children.  But according to the study, just one in three Latino parents in Illinois secured a preschool slot for their child, compared to two-thirds of other parents in the state. 

“The supply of preschools in African-American communities has grown over the last 40 years, but we’ve seen much less progress in equalizing the access for Latino families,” says Fuller.  “The Latino population has been growing rapidly in the Chicago metro area, but with the economic downturn, there are fewer public resources available to try to make progress.”

The state is taking some steps toward closing the achievement gap between Latino and white children.  The Illinois Facilities Fund recently put $45 million toward the building of new preschool facilities, and beginning in 2014, the state will begin implementing new bilingual programs at the preschool level.

Nevertheless, a series of recent state budget cuts and a backlog in payments to local agencies will limit the success any new projects.  According to the report, “looming closures and cutbacks in services will only widen the cognitive and language disparities between Latino children and their peers.”