childrennowWe’ve been working to improve early childhood experiences for nearly 20 years – and new research shows it’s paying off.

Last month, researchers from Stanford University released new data comparing 40,000 children who started kindergarten in 1998, 2006, and 2010. They found that children from the poorest and wealthiest families improved in early literacy and math assessments. Despite the Great Recession and growing inequality in the country, children in poverty made the largest gains.

The lead researcher said the achievement gap is closing “not because schools are getting more equal, but because something in early childhood is becoming more equal.”  According to researchers, the leveling force may be parents.

Thanks to campaigns like those First 5 California conducts, more parents and caregivers understand how very young children learn and develop. Low-income parents are taking a more active role when it comes to reading, playing, and exploring fun places more with their children. We’re seeing comparable results in our programs. After attending First 5 Center activities for one year, there was a 36% increase in the number of parents reading to their children daily.

Another likely reason for the narrowing achievement gap is the fact more low-income children are enrolled in high-quality child care programs. Two new studies on Head Start confirm the impact that program made on recipients, as students and later in life. One study compared siblings and found those who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Publicly funded programs like Head Start and the California State Preschool Program offer some of the richest, best quality care available, and low-income children and families benefit. We’ve rated and supported dozens of these programs in our Quality Matters child care rating and improvement system. Most of these state and federally funded programs earn the highest quality ratings.

Parent by parent and preschool by preschool, early learning is improving for young children. This is progress. But just think of the impact far-reaching policies – quality preschool for all, infant home visiting, public school reform, paid family leave, and more – would have on all children and families. That’s sustainable progress.