Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Earlier this month, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013.”

Drawing on “our most reliable statistics,” according to the foreword, the report “presents 41 key indicators on important aspects of children’s lives.”  The report covers seven domains, including family and social environment, economic situation, health and health care, education, behavior, and physical environment and safety.

Among the key findings that Education Week points out, “Children who experienced at least some early child care beyond their parents or relatives performed better in reading and math in kindergarten than those who were cared for only by relatives.”

A special feature in the report focuses on kindergarten “using data from a longitudinal study of a 2010–2011 kindergarten cohort.” In the fall of 2010, some three and a half million children entered kindergarten for the first time.

The story of kindergarten is a story of laughter and glue and building with blocks – and also a story of achievement gaps.

“As children enter kindergarten, their reading and mathematics knowledge and skills differ by characteristics such as their age, race and Hispanic origin, family type, household socioeconomic status, and child care history,” the report says. “In addition, research has shown that these early achievement gaps widen over the first four years of elementary school and persist into later grades.”

“First-time kindergartners’ fall reading skills also differed with respect to their primary care arrangements in the year prior to kindergarten,” the report says. Children who stayed home with parents or relatives had lower reading scores in the fall than children who attended center-based care or got home-based care from someone who was not a relative.

The pattern was similar in children’s math skills. Children who went to preschool programs scored higher on math assessments in kindergarten.

A press release also says, “On average, girls received higher scores than boys on kindergarten entry assessments in reading and approaches to learning. There were no differences between girls and boys in mathematics and science.”

The country’s children are also becoming more diverse. The release says that by 2050, about half of the American population under age 17 “is projected to be composed of children who are Hispanic, Asian, or of two or more races.”  In addition, “The report projected that, among children under age 17, 36 percent will be Hispanic (up from 24 percent in 2012); 6 percent will be Asian (up from 5 percent in 2012); and 7 percent will be of two or more races (up from 4 percent in 2012).”

These findings suggest that high-quality early education programs will have to meet the needs of a globally diverse group of children, as we discussed here.

“Understanding the changing demographic characteristics of America’s children is critical for shaping social programs and policies,” the report says. “The number of children determines the demand for schools, health care and other social services that are essential for meeting the daily needs of families.”

The “America’s Children” report adds to the growing body of research on the importance of preschool and highlights the need to address achievement gaps early in life.