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Volume 21, Number 4
July/August 2005

Early Childhood Education at a Crossroads

Access to preschool has come a long way, but critical choices lie ahead


There is some good news to report about the education of young children in the United States. One of the most encouraging developments in recent years has been the growing number of children who have access to early educational experiences. Nearly all five-year-olds are now enrolled in school, and the proportion of U.S. three- and four-year-olds who attend preschool has increased dramatically over the past four decades. In 1965, the year Head Start was first implemented, only 5 percent of three-year-olds and 16 percent of four-year-olds attended preschool; in 2002 the proportions were 42 percent and 67 percent, respectively. While some of this increase is due to demographic changes (such as greater percentages of single-parent households or those in which both parents work), it is encouraging that many more children participate in structured learning experiences at younger ages than ever before.

This article is part of an ongoing series on the education of children from preK through grade 3, made possible through the support of the Foundation for Child Development.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    B.T. Bowman, M.S. Donovan, and M.S. Burns. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2000.

    Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1998.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings. Washington, DC: Author, 2002.