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Unveiling Inequities in Early Childhood Education: A Closer Look at NIEER’s Recent Report

byCharles HollowayonMay 26, 2023

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently published an enlightening report, “The State(s) of Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education: Looking at Equity.” This report is the first equity-focused analysis of federal programs aimed at supporting young children with disabilities. This study examines variations in access to Early Intervention (EI) for children aged 0-3 and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) for children aged 3-5.

This report not only examines variations in access to these services but also scrutinizes how they are delivered. It investigates four types of variations in EI and ECSE services tied to equity - the impact of Covid-19, race and ethnicity, gender, and state of residence. The key findings illustrate several inequities in accessibility and strongly suggest areas for improvement.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in fewer children accessing EI and ECSE services. Moreover, it led to a larger decrease in EI for Asian children and a steeper decline in ECSE for Black children. Such inequitable decreases raise serious concerns about the effect of the pandemic and potential lasting impacts on educational equity.

Overall racial and ethnic disparities are quite prominent as well. In general, Asian, Hispanic, and Black children are less likely to receive both EI and ECSE services than White non-Hispanic children. Black children face the most significant disparities in access, raising alarms about systemic racism in these programs.

Regarding gender, boys are twice as likely as girls to receive EI and ECSE. While there may be various reasons for this - the report cites possible biological differences which need further study- it is crucial to ensure girls are not overlooked.

Further, the report finds that the likelihood of children receiving EI and ECSE increases with state median income, implying an economic bias in the accessibility of these services. The wealth of a state should not be a deciding factor in the educational support a child receives.

In response to these findings, NIEER has proposed a three-fold plan of action. First, increase federal funding substantially to alleviate income-related disparities across states. Second, formulate a national commission to address these inequities, involving state program administrators for shared learning and input. Lastly, incentivize the collection of more comprehensive data about EI and ECSE services and fund research for a deeper understanding of young children's special needs, identification, and services.

In essence, this report is a wake-up call for policymakers, educators, and society as a whole. It's high time to act decisively and collaboratively to ensure every child, regardless of their race, gender, or state of residence, receives the early education support they need for a brighter future. The stakes are high, and our children's futures are in the balance. It's time to step up and ensure that equity isn't just a buzzword, but a lived reality for all young children.


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