The United States is lagging far behind much of the developed world when it comes to enrolling children in preschool programs, ranking 24th and 26th among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in the enrollment and three- and four-year-olds, respectively.
While the U.S. enrolls just just 69 percent of its four-year-olds and 51 percent of its three-year-olds, other countries enroll nearly all of their young children in preschool programs. But it isn’t just enrollment where America falls behind — it also fails to keep up in other areas, such as when children begin school, how much it spends on preschool, and the teacher-to-child ratio in its early childhood education programs, as this infographic from Juliana Herman, Sasha Post, and Scott O’Halloran at the Center for American Progress shows:
The gap between the U.S. and other countries leads to gaps in achievement later on in childrens’ lives: Japan, for instance, enrolls nearly all of its four-year-olds in preschool programs and outscored the U.S. by 40 points on the latest international test of fourth-grade math, CAP notes. In the U.S., state-level pre-kindergarten programs have led to substantial gains for children compared to those who don’t receive early childhood education. Children in Tennessee’s state-funded program, for instance, “saw a 75 percent improvement in letter-word identification, a 152 percent improvement in oral comprehension, a 176 percent improvement in picture vocabulary, and a 63 percent improvement in quantitative concepts.”
But the U.S. isn’t just lagging behind countries it traditionally competes with. Emerging industrialized countries are also setting loftier goals and standards for the enrollment of children in public preschool programs, while the U.S. hasn’t followed the same path:
President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget seeks to close those gaps by including $75 billion to expand high-quality preschool programs that would bring the U.S. closer to the levels of enrollment seen in other industrialized countries. That would benefit millions of children, who are less likely to drop out of school, become teenage parents, or commit crimes when they receive early childhood education. It would also help the American economy, since preschool boosts human and social capital and the nation’s gross domestic product.