Subprime Learning: Opportunities for Young Children Stagnated After Great Recession, Report Finds

In wake of financial crash triggered by subprime lending, too many children in America experienced subprime learning
Press Release
Jan. 21, 2014

Washington, DC – In the past five years, pre-K enrollments in the United States have not substantially increased, high-quality affordable child care remains rare, kindergarten expansion has been virtually ignored, and a greater number of parents are struggling to support their families, according to a first-of-its-kind review released today by public policy institute New America. The report, Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession, uses indicators related to demographics, funding, student achievement and policy to examine how early education has fared in the United States since the height of the Great Recession and the beginning of the Obama Administration.

“In the wake of a financial crash triggered by subprime lending, too many children in America experienced subprime learning,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative and co-author of the report.

The report takes a broad look at early education from 2009 to 2013 -- examining learning opportunities from birth up through third grade -- and it does find a few bright spots related to building infrastructure. Prodded by the Obama Administration, many states have built systems for rating child care quality and are creating tools to track children’s progress. Educators and policymakers are making concerted efforts to link services within and across the ages, from birth through the K-3 grades of school.

“Science shows the critical importance of the early years -- birth through age 8 -- in helping children develop the thinking skills and attributes they need to succeed,” Guernsey said. “We should be alarmed that access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten barely improved while child poverty has increased over the past five years. We also saw little funding for quality child care and only token efforts to improve the K-3 grades.”

Other findings in the report: - Nationwide numbers show that enrollment in public pre-K increased only slightly, from 40 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2012. - Per-pupil funding for state pre-K dropped. - Head Start received some boosts in funding until the sequester and federal government shutdown led to cuts. - Policies paid virtually no attention to the rising population of dual-language learners, especially in the early years in which bilingualism could more easily take hold. - Kindergarten data from 2010 showed achievement gaps between rich and poor. The National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that although fourth-grade test scores inched up on average, income gaps have widened since 2009. - Access to early education opportunities and funding varied widely by state, with some states making critical investments, particularly in 2013, as effects of the recession eased. Federal grants have spurred many states to improve the infrastructure that supports their pre-K and child care programs, and Mississippi launched a pre-K program in 2013.

The report, available online, was written by Lisa Guernsey, Laura Bornfreund, Clare McCann and Conor Williams of the Early Education Initiative in the Education Policy Program at New America. The report was made possible by a grant from the Alliance for Early Success. The authors are available for interviews and background briefings.