Skip to main content

New Study: Millions of Young Children Are Underserved in American Schools

Children’s Equity Project, Bipartisan Policy Center release policy roadmap calling for the end of inequitable policies that have harmed generations of marginalized children

The Children’s Equity Project (CEP) and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released today a groundbreaking, actionable policy roadmap for all levels of government on closing long-standing educational equity gaps that start at birth in the United States.

Start with Equity: From the Early Years to the Early Grades highlights the grave inequities that have long pervaded the education system and affect the lives of millions of children from historically marginalized communities, using the lens of three policy areas: disproportionate application of harsh discipline practices; lack of inclusion of students with disabilities in general classrooms; and inequitable and inadequate access to dual language programming. In each policy area, the 140-page report includes analyses of existing data, a review of the latest research and concrete recommendations for policymakers at the federal, state and local levels.

Among the findings:

  • Racial disparities exist across each issue area, across child ages, and across states. Children with intersecting identities who have to interact with multiple systems are the most disadvantaged.
  • Inequities in learning settings are fueled by a complex array of issues that includeindividual and systemic bias, policies, and access to resources. 
  • Teacher preparation and professional development is poorly resourced, and it inadequately and insufficiently addresses equity in learning.
  • Segregated learning for children with disabilities is common, and varies by state, child race, and disability category. 
  • Federal and state programs for children from historically marginalized communities are severely underfunded.
  • There is great variation in state policies on each of these issues.
  • Federal and state monitoring and accountability is either insufficient or altogether absent. 
  • Data gaps across issue areas — but especially on dual language learners — obscure a clear understanding of how systems work and how well they support children.

“Our education system has created barriers that stack the cards against millions of children, and they have to climb over them even before they’re out of diapers. In the midst of the global pandemic and as thousands of people across the country protest for an end to racial injustice, we must act now to change our unequal, unfair, and unsustainable education system,” said Shantel Meek, founding director of the Children’s Equity Project. “This report is a call to action for policymakers across the country: Our babies and children cannot wait any longer.”

“Our nation is at a crossroads in history. How fairly we treat our fellow citizens, especially our youngest, will determine the future of our democracy,” said Linda Smith, director of BPC’s Early Childhood Initiative. “By bringing an equity lens to early learning systems, we can more strongly and equitably support our children especially those who have been historically marginalized—including children of color, children with disabilities, and the nation’s young dual language learners.”

Funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation, the report was compiled from convenings of more than 70 experts from universities, think tanks and organizations to analyze key data, explore published research and examine the policy landscape at the state and federal levels. CEP and BPC plan to focus future research on how these inequities affect Native students.

The report shows that demographics, such as race, ethnicity, home language, and disability are too often predictors of a child’s learning experiences and outcomes because of a system that is inequitable for millions of children, starting from birth. These disparities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and will worsen unless policymakers begin to dismantle inequities in education, child care and health care access.

The policy roadmap has recommendations for changes all levels of government, including:

  • Fully funding existing laws designed to support children from marginalized communities, such as IDEA, the Head Start Act, and Titles I and III of the Every Student Succeeds Act
  • Ensuring states report their plans to make systems more equitable in applications for federal funding and that the federal government ties funding to progress on those plans
  • Ensuring both states and the federal government incorporate equity into monitoring and accountability systems
  • Supporting and funding better preparation for teachers and early educators grounded in anti-racism and equity
  • Increasing funding for longitudinal, disaggregated data collection
  • Ensuring all education laws moving forward prioritize racial, ethnic, linguistic, socioeconomic and ability-based integration
  • Reforming school discipline systems, including ending corporal punishment, seclusion, and exclusionary discipline for young children
  • Expanding inclusive learning for children with disabilities
  • Phasing out English immersion approaches, and ensuring that dual language learners have equitable access to bilingual learning opportunities

To examine the report fully, CEP and BPC are hosting a series of free webinars in July and August with equity scholars across the country:

  • Comprehensive look at full report: July 14 from 3-4:30 p.m. ET. Register here.
  • Harsh discipline: July 22, from 3-4:30 p.m. ET. Register here.
  • Inclusion of students with disabilities: July 28 from 3-4:30 p.m. ET. Register here.
  • Dual language learners: Aug. 6 from 3-4:30 p.m. ET. Register here.

The Children’s Equity Project (CEP), housed at Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, is a multiple-university think tank focused on transforming research-backed policy into practice so that all children—regardless of race, ethnicity, language of origin, income, and ability—can reach their full potential. CEP has participation from scholars at Yale University, Bank Street College of Education, Howard University, Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University, University of Miami, University of Oregon, University of California Los Angeles, Florida International University, Trinity University, The Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, NORC at the University of Chicago, the Century Foundation, and Indigo Cultural Center.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a Washington, DC-based think tank that actively fosters bipartisanship by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans. Our policy solutions are the product of informed deliberations by former elected and appointed officials, business and labor leaders, and academics and advocates who represent both sides of the political spectrum. BPC prioritizes one thing above all else: getting things done.