Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Boys and Kids of Color Lag Behind in Kindergarten Preparedness

September 11th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

According to yesterday’s SF Chronicle, a first-of-its-kind study of San Francisco kindergarten boys and girls has found that half of the city’s entering students are not ready for school.

At least part of the gender achievement gap between young Black men and young Black women can be attributed to the pressure on African American boys to live up to certain popular conceptions of Blackness and masculinity, particularly those that are at odds with the academic success.

The Chronicle report on the San Francisco kindergarten study highlights an additional contributor this same achievement gap. According to Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker, the study found that, “Those who were ready more often were girls, attended preschool, were older, had no special needs, and had mothers who went to college, researchers found.” In addition, “The mother’s education was most closely aligned with a child’s readiness, trumping all other characteristics, including family income, ethnicity, and English language ability.”

The groups at greatest risk for lack of kindergarten preparedness were found to be, ” younger kindergartners, low-income tots, boys, Latinos, African Americans and those who did less reading with their families.” Those who enter kindergarten unprepared are rarely able to catch up and, instead, fall farther behind every year; but the study authors also found that preschool could bridge the gap between prepared and unprepared students. This last finding could certainly lead to a decrease in the gender gap between young Black men’s and young Black women’s high school graduation rates.

One of the teachers in the Chronicle article is quoted as saying that, “[s]ome kids come in and haven’t held a pencil before,” an observation that suggests that there are kids coming into kindergarten who haven’t even had a chance to draw. These children are the unwitting victims of that less easily recognized form of neglect which manifests itself in the parents’ wholesale abandonment of the role of their child’s first teacher.

Such children cannot wait until universal parenting education becomes feasible. Their need is immediate; and government policies change far more slowly than will benefit those boys and girls who are currently poised to enter kindergarten during the next 3 – 5 years underexposed to even the basic tools of learning.

Recently, San Francisco has taken decisive steps toward insuring that at-risk groups enter kindergarten no less prepared than their school-ready peers. The Chronicle describes the city’s unique approach to insuring that all children who enter school are, indeed, ready to learn:

The city and school district is ahead of schedule in expanding San Francisco’s Preschool for All program, which is serving 2,400 children this year in every ZIP code. The program offers free preschool regardless of family income level, funded by city Proposition H money as well as state, federal and school district resources.

Within three years, the city hopes to offer 4,800 spots, serving most of the city’s 6,000 4 year olds. San Francisco is the only county in the state offering free universal preschool, Mayor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

Universal preschool should be a national priority, especially given the long-term effects of entering school unprepared. San Francisco is funding its own program (with federal assistance), but not all cities can afford to take that path (though some would argue that no city can afford not to follow in SF’s footsteps). I’d love to see a program like Upward Bound, but for preschoolers. Children could enroll during the summer before kindergarten, or even 2 or 3 days a week throughout the school year. Like Upward Bound, a national preschool program could be based on college campuses. Federal funding would be ideal, but colleges — especially those with massive endowments– could finance the programs themselves.

The stated goal of the Upward Bound program is, “to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.” How much more easily could Upward Bound reach its goals — and for how many more young people — if preschool was was available for all students who needed it?

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in Current Events, Education, kindergarten, preschool, race, San Francisco

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