“This powerful book should be mandatory reading for anyone who cares about our nation. The authors provide compelling evidence that by neglecting what science shows our children and families really need, we are imperiling our future. Even more importantly, they offer a plan to support all our children and their parents, ensuring that each of our children has the opportunity to thrive.”
—David T. Ellwood, Isabelle and Scott Black Professor of Political Economy, and director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Early care and education in the United States is in crisis. The period between birth and kindergarten is a crucial time for a child’s development. Yet vast racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities that begin early in children’s lives contribute to starkly different long-term outcomes for adults. Compared to other advanced economies, child care and preschool in the U.S. are scarce, prohibitively expensive, and inadequate in quality for most middle- and low-income families. To what extent can early-life opportunities provide these children with the same life chances of their affluent peers and contribute to reduced social inequality in the long term, and across generations? The updated second edition of Cradle to Kindergarten offers a comprehensive, evidence-based strategy that diagnoses the obstacles to accessible early education and charts a path to opportunity for all children.
The U.S. government invests less in children under the age of five than do most other developed nations. Most working families must seek private child care, but high-quality child care options are expensive relative to the means of most families. This means that children from lower-income households, who would benefit most from high-quality early education, are the least likely to attend them. Existing policies, such as pre-kindergarten in some states, are only partial solutions, and what exists varies tremendously in terms of access and quality.
To address these deficiencies, the authors propose to overhaul the early care and education system, beginning with a federal paid parental leave policy that provides both mothers and fathers with time and financial support after the birth of a child. They also advance an expansion of the child care tax credit, and a new child care assurance program that provides grant assistance towards the cost of high-quality early care for low- and moderate-income families. Their plan establishes universal, high-quality early education in the states starting by age three, and a reform of the Head Start program that would include more intensive services for families living in areas of concentrated poverty and experiencing multiple adversities from the earliest point in these most disadvantaged children’s lives. They conclude with an implementation plan and contend that these reforms are attainable well within a ten-year timeline.
Reducing educational and economic inequalities requires that all children have robust opportunities to learn and fully develop their capacities and have a fair shot at success. Cradle to Kindergarten presents a blueprint for fulfilling this promise by expanding access to educational and financial resources at a critical stage of child development.
Ajay Chaudry is a writer on social policy and research professor at New York University, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the administration of President Barack Obama.
Taryn Morrissey is Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy at American University.
Christina Weiland is Associate Professor of Education at the University of Michigan.
Hirokazu Yoshikawa is the Courtney Sale Ross Professor of Globalization and Education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and Co-Director of the Global TIES for Children Center at New York University.