RELEASE: Race and Socioeconomic Background Affect Access to Quality Early Childhood Programs, New CAP Report Finds

Washington, D.C. — A new report (en español) on preschool-to-third-grade, or P-3, alignment from the Center for American Progress examines the extent to which race and socioeconomic status affect a child’s access to high-quality early education and whether exposure to classrooms with teaching practices that build on and strengthen that early foundation vary for children from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. CAP’s research finds that among children with access to center-based prekindergarten programs, Hispanic children are more likely to access high quality than black children, and children from middle-income families have the least access to high quality. The report is the last in a series of three from CAP on P-3 alignment. Prior research examined state and local efforts around P-3 alignment and aligning access to teacher quality.

“It is critical for children to have consistency in their learning experience as they move from preschool into their early elementary education,” said Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Policy Analyst at CAP. “To help make this happen, federal policymakers should consider steps to expand access to high-quality early learning, support the alignment of standards across the P-3 spectrum, and ensure that teachers have the skills and support they need to facilitate healthy child development and learning.”

“Quality matters for young children, yet too many of their experiences in child care and elementary school are of low quality,” said Danielle Ewen, senior policy advisor at Education Counsel. “As states, districts and the federal government look for opportunities to improve outcomes for all children, new investments that increase access and raise quality through aligned professional development and integrated approaches for children from birth to third grade will be critical for success.”

A closer look at access to center-based care shows that Hispanic children are the most likely to be in high-quality settings, followed closely by their white peers. Meanwhile, black children are the least likely to be in high-quality settings and, worse yet, most likely to be in low-quality early childhood programs. Ten percent of black children are in low-quality programs—a higher proportion than Asian, Hispanic, and white children—a trend that has been confirmed by other researchers.

CAP’s examination of data also revealed that measures of quality in early childhood and those in early elementary school are not similar or aligned. Additionally, in early elementary grades—kindergarten through second grade—teachers appear to spend less time developing the higher-order thinking skills that are critical for school success, despite the high expectations outlined in state education standards.

The CAP report offers recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers to adopt when considering P-3 alignment in order to improve access to quality for all children. Those recommendations include:

  • Expand access to high-quality early education by increasing investments at the federal, state, and local levels
  • Create aligned quality standards between early childhood programs and third grade and develop consistent metrics and data systems to track access to quality between these years
  • Ensure that teacher preparation programs and professional development opportunities incorporate information about children’s development in all domains to support higher-order skill building

CAP’s report notes that continuous access to high-quality learning environments and experiences between preschool and third grade would better support children’s early development and contribute to success in their academic career and beyond.

Click here to read “Examining Quality Across the Preschool-to-Third-Grade Continuum” by Danielle Ewen and Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath.

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Allison Preiss at or 202.478.6331.