States should increase their emphasis on early-childhood education programs that have the potential to serve large numbers of Hispanic infants and toddlers, a report released last week by a national task force recommends.
They also should continue to build public pre-K programs toward universal access, it says, while the federal government should expand Early Head Start and Head Start to reach more children from low-income families.
"The most promising opportunities for raising Hispanic achievement are in the early-childhood years," the authors write.
Released March 8, "Para Nuestros Ninos"--or "For Our Children"--is the work of the National Task Force on Early-Childhood Education for Hispanics. The 20-member group includes entertainer Bill Cosby, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and members from the business community. Its chairman, Eugene E. Garcia, vice president for school-university partnerships at Arizona State University, in Tempe, was instrumental in organizing the task force in 2005, and funding sources include the Foundation for Child Development and the Mailman Foundation.
"Closing the 'achievement gap' between Hispanic and white children is essential for the full participation of Hispanics in all sectors of our technology-based society," the report says.
The authors also recommend that states work to increase the numbers of pre-K and primary-grade teachers who are proficient in both English and Spanish as well as the number of "second-language-acquisition specialists."
The release of the report in Washington was also the beginning of a multicity tour in which state-specific information will be released in places with significant Hispanic populations. On March 19, an event is scheduled in Los Angeles, and one is set for Little Rock, Ark., in April.
As a member of the Aspen Institute's high-profile Commission on No Child Left Behind, Mr. Garcia pushed for a recommendation in the group's recent final report that would require schools that are not making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to do screenings on preschool and kindergarten pupils that could help determine what interventions or services they need.
In the report issued last week, the task force provides a clear demographic picture of Hispanic children in the United States, as well as achievement data.
In 2000, 20 percent of the nation's 33.4 million children from birth through age 8 were Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data. It is projected that by 2030, Hispanics will make up more than a quarter of that age group.
Low parental education levels, poverty, and a lack of English skills are the three primary issues that tend to contribute to Hispanic children's low achievement, the report says.
Data from the federal government's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten cohort, which was launched during the 1998-99 school year, show that when Hispanic children start kindergarten, their reading and mathematics skills are well behind those of their non-Hispanic white peers. The gaps narrow somewhat over the elementary years, but the Hispanic children remain behind in the 5th grade.
The analysis also shows that achievement levels vary tremendously among children from different backgrounds. For example, while children of Mexican and Central American heritage lag behind white children, the performance of children of South American, Cuban, and Puerto Rican descent resembles that of their white peers.
The report highlights programs for infants and toddlers, such as Early Head Start, because such efforts "can provide a strategy to supplement the language- and literacy-development opportunities in the home, expanding access to this very important factor in school readiness," it states.
While the task force recognizes states' efforts to expand pre-K programs to all their children, it also says that more should be done to increase capacity of center-based programs in Hispanic neighborhoods, especially in large urban areas, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.