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Data Shows Why Black Children Struggle and Asian Children Thrive

Early childhood education and being born at a normal birthweight has more to do with future success than you might think.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report titled “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children”, which discusses the well-being of American children. In addition to other findings, it explores just how disparate the gap between African-American children and Asian-American children really is. Even the smallest differences in birth weight and pre-school enrollment, it shows, can mean big differences for a child’s trajectory and success.

The report in question is technically a sequel to the foundation’s 2014 report of the same name. In their own words, the researchers said they needed to update the report because the 2014 release was based on data collected in the midst of the Great Recession. And although the years between the two reports have been few, the intensity and nuance of the national conversation about race in the United States have shifted dramatically over the last few years. To be certain, the findings of the new report echoed the 2014 study. But in this study, the researchers dive deeper into the numbers to understand how and why things are the way they are.

Per the report, young African-American kids are the least likely to be born at a normal birthweight, and lag by a significant margin: While only 87 percent of babies are born the correct weight, Native American, Asian American, Latino, and White babies are all born within one point of each other, from 92-93 percent. African American kids have a 60 percent enrollment rate in early education. Asian children are the most likely to be enrolled in school between ages 3 to 5, with nearly 65 percent enrolled.

These numbers seem minuscule, but any analysis of their differences and their ramifications is incomplete and frankly dangerous if we don’t consider from where these numbers come. Not only is pre-school enrollment (or a lack of it) an indicator of the larger environment around certain children and resources their certain community has, it also remains a massive indicator of how a child will perform at later levels of education such as 4th- or 8th-grade reading levels.

Indeed, African-American babies are underperforming in reading at the 4th-grade level by an large margin (18 percent to an Asian-American child’s 53 percent). Even less report being proficient in math — 12 percent of African-American kids compared to  58 percent of Asian American kids.

Of course, numbers alone don’t paint the full picture, even if they paint a pretty damning one. Looking behind the numbers, though, can provide a reason — not just the results — behind the inequalities in high school graduation rates, what percentage of children of certain races live in two-parent families, what percentage of children of certain races live in poverty.

It’s no secret that a higher quality of pre-school education and more time spent in early education increases school readiness. Not only does it help students succeed, but it also helps them gain a base to learn and master reading and math later in life, both of which are linked to attending college and finishing a four-year degree.

It’s important to note, however, even if it sounds self-explanatory, that these schools aren’t all the same school — children grow up in different neighborhoods, with different quality schools and teachers and funding. 

Roughly half of children of color, according to the study, live in communities with poorer schools, higher crime and unemployment rates, more exposure to pollution, and fewer family services or community support systems. More children of color are also born to parents without degrees or in single-parent households, which also means that they are likely to make less money, meaning fewer resources can be devoted to a child’s health. That’s unfortunate: The research is clear that with more of all of those good things and less of all of those bad, the better children and families do over their lifetimes and over their next lifetimes, as they pass their wealth and resources down to their children. Decades of structural inequality is a lot to overcome for a kid who is also trying to keep their head above water in math class.

At a time when our access to early education and childcare is not only shrinking but also becoming more and more of a luxury, the gap in achievement (and the reasons for it) between children of different races has become more and more clear. Wealth is important and helps, but enrollment in early childhood education programs, more social services in neighborhoods, and more poverty-reduction programs would do well to help our nation’s most vulnerable. Nothing less than the future of our children (and our economy) are resting on it.