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Fulfilling the Promise of Preschool for All

Insights into Issues Affecting Access for Selected Immigrant Groups in Chicago

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Document date: July 30, 2009
Released online: August 05, 2009

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full report and executive summary in PDF format.


The study involved interviews with families from Nigeria and Pakistan living on Chicago's North Side to examine their experiences and perspectives around accessing Illinois' universal preschool program, Preschool for All (PFA). Researchers conducted focus groups with parents and spoke with PFA providers for their perspective on issues families raised. The findings suggest Nigerian and Pakistani families can face numerous barriers accessing Preschool for All. While some barriers are unique to their immigration status, others are experienced by other low-income and vulnerable families as well. The report concludes with implications for policy and recommendations for future research.

Executive Summary

In July 2006, Illinois passed landmark legislation designed to ensure access for all 3- and 4- year-old children to quality early childhood education to help prepare them for a strong start in life.1 This program is on the path to full implementation, though is not yet funded at levels to be available to all 3- and 4-year-olds. As the program is being rolled out, one critical issue facing those involved in trying to make Preschool for All (PFA) a reality is to identify what needs to be done to make sure that the first cornerstone—"access for all"—is realized. Failing to make sure that the most vulnerable children participate in the program runs the risk of simply widening the achievement gap, as other children around them move forward and benefit from the quality early childhood services. As a result, it is essential to move beyond simply making programs available to children whose families face particular barriers to participation and to take steps to address the range of barriers—some personal to the families, some policy-related— that may prevent a family from enrolling in, or staying enrolled in, a preschool program.

Children with at least one immigrant parent are of particular concern to early childhood leaders and policymakers in Illinois. These children make up a significant and growing proportion of the children in Illinois. Between 1990 and 2007, the proportion of children in Illinois younger than age 6 who had one or more foreign-born parents rose from 14 to 27 percent. Almost all these children were U.S. citizens.2 Even though children of immigrants are likely to face particular challenges at school and are likely to benefit from early childhood education services if they enroll, they also face unique challenges and barriers to accessing such services (Matthews and Jang 2007). Many children of immigrants are also English language learners, a group the PFA program sees as of particular focus.

Because of the importance of this issue, the Joyce Foundation funded Urban Institute researchers to conduct a two-part study to examine challenges facing children of immigrants in accessing the Illinois Preschool for All program. The first phase gathered information on concerns that policymakers had about immigrant children's access to prekindergarten in Illinois, while the second phase involved conducting a small study on the barriers and opportunities around accessing the PFA program facing lower-incidence immigrant families. Lower-incidence immigrant groups are those that are not as numerous as Mexican immigrants, the largest single immigrant group in Chicago, or immigrants from Latin America, who make up about half the immigrant population in Illinois.3

UI researchers studied families from Nigeria and Pakistan living on Chicago's North Side to examine their experiences and perspectives around accessing the PFA program.4 We conducted two focus groups with parents with preschool-age children from each immigrant group, including parents whose children were enrolled in prekindergarten programs and parents whose children were not. We also spoke with some PFA providers in the same community for their perspective on the issues raised by the families.

The report lays out the findings of this study. However, these findings should be seen as exploratory rather than conclusive and should not be assumed to reflect the experiences of even all families from these immigrant groups in this community, much less in the rest of Chicago or the rest of the state. Instead, these findings reflect insights gathered from a relatively small number of families and providers from just two of the many lower-incidence immigrant groups in one small area of Chicago. Nonetheless, the experiences of the families and providers in this study provide many interesting insights to consider in developing policy for the general PFA program and useful avenues for further exploration as policymakers consider how to strengthen the program to better serve all children.

(End of excerpt. The entire report and executive summary is available in pdf format.)

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Cities and Neighborhoods | Education | Immigrants

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