This report highlights a pervasive achievement gap that positions low-income preschoolers far behind their more affluent classmates. Readers will discover how lessons from research and the real world point to an inspiring solution — one that combines professional development with a teaching approach called intentional curriculum. This report is part of a series penned by the National Center for Children in Poverty that aims to advance academic discourse on bolstering early learning success among low-income children.
The achievement gap related to income status is real and significant
Findings & Stats
A Stubborn — and Pervasive — Problem
Why is it so challenging to connect low-income children with a quality education from the get-go? For one, it’s a huge demographic, involving 9.6 million children. This group is also more likely to be enrolled in substandard care settings that fail to foster academic achievement and — in 11% of all centers studied — could even cause the young learners harm.
A Two-part Approach
Research highlights two components — investing in professional development for educators and embracing an intentional curriculum — as important to closing the early-education achievement gap among low-income children.
Intentional Curriculum Decoded
In this research-based approach, educators actively engage young children via planned and sequenced lessons that are both age-appropriate and fun. Other hallmarks of the methodology include: Emphasizing social and self-regulation skills alongside academic gains, promoting a nurturing environment that encourages meaningful interactions and being inclusive of cultural differences and early English learners.
Advanced Degrees Not Required
It’s a fact: Children achieve more when their teachers are knowledgeable about early childhood and child development. What isn’t so clear, according to research, is just how much education and training is necessary for effective instruction. New and existing teachers who lack advanced degrees and training can excel with ongoing consultation, mentoring and feedback directly tied to their classroom practice.
Conversations about education quality have long cited references to child-staff ratios and classroom size. Research suggests expanding this assessment toolbox to account for variables such as instructional styles, student-teacher interactions and the ability of educators to relay content-linked aspects of the curriculum.
Maryland’s Model Move
Readers will learn how one school district in Maryland coupled intentional curriculum with teacher supports to narrow the achievement gap between low-income children and their more affluent classmates. Targeted interventions included adding more daylong kindergarten classes, establishing a clear curriculum blueprint, bolstering training opportunities for teachers and embedding professional development coaches in schools.
This issue brief offers specific recommendations for five types of players invested in closing the early-education achievement gap. These groups are: 1) state and local policymakers; 2) early learning administrators; 3) teachers; 4) family and community members; and 5) researchers.
Statements & Quotations
At age 4 years, children who live below the poverty line are 18 months below the developmental norm for their age group.
A child growing up in a family on welfare could have heard 32 million fewer words than a classmate growing up in a professional family by the time of kindergarten entry.
Closing the achievement gap is a large task requiring strategic planning and action at the classroom, local, state and federal levels.