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Thursday, June 29, 2017

U.S. Trails in Early Childhood Education Enrollment

From U.S. News & World Report

By Lauren Camera
June 21, 2017

The overall enrollment of all 3- to 5-year-olds in the U.S. is 67 percent, the lowest out of all but two OECD countries.

The U.S. falls significantly behind other developed countries when it comes to
enrollment rates of 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a new report. C. Futcher/Getty

States across the U.S. are taking more seriously the importance of early childhood education and ramping up their offerings, but compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has a long way to go.

While enrollment rates for children under age three hover just below 30 percent – the middle of the pack compared to other countries – the U.S. falls significantly behind when it comes to enrollment rates of 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Giving all children access to high-quality early education and care will lay the foundations for future skill development, boost social mobility and support inclusive growth,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD chief of staff, in a statement.

The report assessed early childhood education enrollment, access, funding, staffing and its impact on academic performance in later years across 36 industrialized countries.

Researchers found that 40 percent of 3-year-olds in the U.S. and about 70 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs – rates that pale in comparison with other developed countries. The average enrollment rate for 3-year-olds was 70 percent and in two-thirds of the countries included in the report, the enrollment for 4-year-olds surpassed 90 percent.

Indeed, the only other country with a smaller percentage of 3-year-olds enrolled is Turkey, where less than 10 percent of children aged three are enrolled, and only Greece, Switzerland and Turkey have a lower percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled.

The overall enrollment of all 3- to 5-year-olds in the U.S. is 67 percent, the lowest out of all OECD countries except Switzerland and Turkey.

Access to such programs is increasing in all countries the report analyzed, in large part because of increased public spending and efforts to provide universal and free access, at least for some ages and selected population groups, typically children from low-income families.

In 2015, most countries provided free access to early childhood education to all children for at least the last year before entering primary school, though that was not the case in the U.S., where that benefit is offered only in a handful of states.

“Universal or near-universal access to at least one year of [early childhood education] is now a reality in most OECD countries,” Ramos said.

Most countries included in the report substantially invest in early childhood education programs, with program costs often subsidized with public funding. Public funding subsidized about 69 percent of total preschool expenditures and 83 percent of pre-kindergarten costs.

Notably, the U.S. annual expenditure on early childhood education is $9,986 per child, well above the average of $7,927 in other countries, and the 8th highest amount out of all countries. However, the U.S. spends 0.4 percent or less of its GDP on preschool, which is below the average about 0.8 percent.

Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She’s covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s competitive education grant, Race to the Top.

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