The key to closing the achievement gap begins with a preschool education, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (Photo/Getty Images)

Education secretary says preschool is key for Latino success

Latinos are heading to school in greater numbers than ever before, graduating from high school and enrolling in college at record rates. But the key to closing the achievement gap between Latino and white students could be as simple as sending off your child to preschool, in part because Hispanic children attend preschool in lower numbers than other groups and are less prepared for their elementary school education as a result, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in an address to reporters Wednesday.

“Less than half of Hispanic children attend any kind of preschool – that’s kind of staggering,” Duncan shared at a press breakfast Wednesday. “This is the fastest-growing population and a lower-than-average participation rate … You’re 5 years old and you’re entering school 1 to 2 years behind and you wonder why we have an achievement gap.”

RELATED: Latino access to preschool key in narrowing Hispanic-white gap, says study

Access to preschool education could close the Hispanic-white school readiness gap by 26 percent, says a report released last year by The Future of Children, a joint Princeton/Brookings journal, adding to Duncan’s position that educators, community leaders and educations need to work together to increase Hispanic preschool enrollment.

“We can keep trying to play catch-up or we can have an effect on the front end, by leveling the playing field from the beginning,” Duncan said.

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Citing limited access to preschool or cases where Latino families may be disinclined to send their child to early education facilities, Duncan said that challenges should be overcome to create higher preschool enrollment rates among Hispanic children, adding “at the end of the day, parents want the right thing for their kids.”

The urgency for increasing Latino preschool enrollment follows President Obama’s proposal for a federal partnership with states to offer “universal preschool” for 4-year-olds across the country. In his 2014 budget, President Obama’s expansion of childhood education would be paid for in part by an increase in federal tobacco tax, as well as federal and state funding.

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