Committing to Equity and Excellence for Young Black Children

This week I had the privilege to attend a discussion on access to high-quality early care and education for black children hosted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The event was occasioned by the release of two new reports:

  • Equity and Excellence: African American Children’s Access to Quality Preschool” by the Initiative,  the National Institute or Early Education Research (NIEER) and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO); and
  • Being Black is Not a Risk Factor” by the National Black Child Development Institute.

The discussion focused on the importance of high-quality early care and education for black children, their families, and their communities. High-quality early care and education starts before birth and includes services such as parent engagement, child care, Pre-K and home visiting. Sondra Samuels, of Minneapolis, MN’s Northside Achievement Zone, described this as “an ecosystem of support” for families, one that could stop the “cradle to caseload” cycle of multi-generational poverty.

Too many children and families in DC and across the country lack access to these high-quality services. Dr. Dorothy Strickland pointed out that the achievement gap between black and white students hardly changes between ages five and 18. Evidence shows, however, that higher quality early care and education can help to significantly shrink that gap before children enter kindergarten. All the panelists came with real examples and hard data on the wide-ranging positive effects of investing in early care and education.

In DC, where over 60% of children are black and 47% of black children live in poverty, high-quality early education for black children is absolutely critical to our city’s future success and prosperity. While DC is ahead of most other jurisdictions in that we offer public Pre-K seats to  three and four year olds, access to pre-k is not an “ecosystem of support.” Many DC neighborhoods lack key assets to support healthy child development.

DC has substantial room to improve early care and education for black children. Evidence-based home visiting programs currently serve fewer than 300 families in only three wards. Gaps between black and white DC students on national exams are among the largest in the nation. All the panelists at this event agreed that advocacy is a key strategy to create and sustain a high-quality early care and education system. For that reason, I am thankful that DC Action is doing that work in our city, combining DC KIDS COUNT data collection with actionable analysis and advocacy to create a better future for all DC children. 

Pictured (L to R): Panel Members Dr. Dorothy S Strickland, Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Institute for Early Education Research, Dr. Felicia Dehaney, President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute, Dr. James P. Comer, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center, Ms. Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone, and Ms. Carla Thompson, Vice President - Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.