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Equity in Early Learning Opportunities: Examining the Roles of Place, Space, and Race

Equity in Early Learning Opportunities: Examining the Roles of Place, Space, and Race
2011Opportunity Communities

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Two recent high-profile Federal policy initiatives–Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods–aim to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into communities of opportunity. Implicit in their policy designs are two well-supported ideas that have emerged from over a decade of research–that improved neighborhood contexts can positively influence child health and development, and that high-quality early care and education centers (including child care centers and preschools) serve as critical developmental resources within neighborhoods. On the early childhood side, these policies are informed by scientific research documenting the importance of positive early experiences for brain development and subsequent capacity to learn (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000; Hackman & Farah, 2009), and by social science literature demonstrating the strong positive and cost-effective impacts that high-quality early education programs can have, particularly for disadvantaged children (Schweinhart et al., 2005; Kirp, 2004; Campbell & Ramey, 1995; Ramey et al., 2000; Heckman, 2000; Barnett, 1993). They also aim to address racial/ethnic disparities found in access to high-quality early learning opportunities (Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2005). On the place-based/neighborhood transformation side, their designs are motivated by a substantial body of evidence about how neighborhood contextual factors (e.g. neighborhood poverty rates, joblessness, crime, degree of racial residential segregation) affect child health and development (for a review see Acevedo-Garcia et al., 2010). While the evidence is clear about the positive effects of high-quality early education and the negative effects of poor neighborhood contexts on disadvantaged children, little is known about the extent to which disparities in early childhood education arise from limited access at the neighborhood level.