In the first installment of our new column on early learning, we take a look at an Urban Institute tool giving school and district leaders a more accurate view of future kindergartners.
School district leaders may think they have a pretty good handle on the characteristics of the pre-K students in their classrooms, but what do they knew about the children who are not enrolled in pre-K, or in any type of early-childhood program? A new interactive site from the Urban Institute allows district leaders and principals to have a more accurate view of their future kindergartners.
The tool can also be useful to community organizations, policymakers and others focusing on increasing young children’s access to early learning opportunities.
The 50-state map, which can zoom in to the community, or “micropolitan” level, provides data on the 10 characteristics that the tool’s creators say are necessary for planning future services, professional development, or even curriculum materials in the early grades. The 10 data points available in the tool are enrollment, race and ethnicity, citizenship, family income, the number of parents in the home and the parents' education level, employment, nativity, English proficiency and primary language.
“Whatever door or agenda you’re walking through, you need the same information,” says Gina Adams, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. “Whatever angles you have, you can create a fact sheet for your locality.”
Want to know how many of the 54,000 3- to 5-year olds in Jacksonville, FL, have two parents that are not fluent in English? The tool can provide that information. Or maybe a principal in Idaho Falls wants to know what percentage of the 8,000 preschool-age children in her community have parents who are not below the poverty line, but probably still can’t afford private preschool. For administrators making decisions about welcoming a new class of kindergarten children or even deciding when to hold school events, “It's really useful to know do they speak English? Do their parents work full-time?” Adams says.
With more districts offering summer transition programs for incoming kindergartners, leaders can also use the data to determine how many in their community have not been enrolled in any type of program and might benefit the most from such an experience. It will be interesting to watch how districts and their community partners use the tool to plan services for children and families entering schools in the next few years.