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Early Childhood Education: Bridging the Income Disparity Gap

2179 words (9 pages) Essay in Education

08/02/20 Education Reference this

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Community development poses a plethora of issues that need to be addressed and considered; one of those issues is early childhood education. While our country does have an abundance of schools that mold the next generations of scholars, these are only in areas with stable and flourishing economies. Areas that are struggling sometimes fail to be considered in terms of education and these areas are the ones that need the most help. Poverty has proven to decrease children’s readiness for school by affecting their health, home life, schooling, and neighborhoods. Numerous studies have been conducted in the United States and show that “socioeconomic [disadvantages] and other risk factors that are associated with poverty have a negative effect on cognitive development and academic achievement, [with] smaller effects on behavior and inconsistent effects on socioemotional outcomes” (Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller, 2007.) Policies that are developed to help improve the state of education in low income areas can prove to be beneficial; however, not all of these policies are implemented into struggling communities.



Figure 1. Disparities in Early Vocabulary. Graph from Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, Why We Invest In Early Childhood, (1995

According to Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller, all doctors in the study of early childhood development, “Parents from disadvantaged backgrounds were not more likely to have prematurely born babies, but the prematurely born children were disproportionately at higher risk for school failure compared to children with higher income families” (Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller, 2007.).  Figure 1 represents a graph from The Commonwealth of Kentucky Governor’s Office of Childhood Education that represents the different comprehension levels of young children from families of different types of incomes. The graph represents a disparity in vocabulary rates between families with high incomes and families with low incomes. Again, this traces back to the fact that higher income families have better lifestyles and resources available to their children compared to families that are poor. “Children from low-income families often do not receive the stimulation [of school readiness] and do not learn the social skills required to prepare them for school” (Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller, 2007.). Additionally, “Children from lower income households score significantly lower on measures of vocabulary and communication skills, knowledge of numbers, copying and symbol use, ability to concentrate and cooperative play with other children than children from higher income households” (Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller, 2007.). The absence of parental skills, good role models, and parent supervision constitutes more severity to this problem for children from low income neighborhoods.


Figure 2. Percentage of children enrolled in preschool, by family income quintile: 4-year-olds. Data from October Current Population Survey (3-year moving averages). Graph from Katherine Magnusson and Jane Waldfogel, Trends in Income-Related Gaps in Enrollment in Early Childhood Education, (2002)

Figure 2 represents a different graph from the American Educational Research Association which shows different quartiles of families that have children enrolled in preschool. Here you see that the first and second quartiles have about 80% of children enrolled in schools. These families are making at least $125,000 or more. The other three quartiles, which are families that make between $50,000 and $75,000, fluctuate between 20% and 40% due to the lack of income for transportation, resources, and overall knowledge. The students that do not attend college or drop out at a young age are “predominantly persons from low-income families, living in underdeveloped areas within major cities or in sparsely populated rural areas, and who have attended ineffective elementary and secondary schools” (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Additionally, children that come from low-income families are less prepared for college than children that come from high income neighborhoods. “For example, among high school graduates in 1992, only 21 percent of those with family incomes of less than $25,000 were highly qualified for admission, and 20 percent were minimally qualified. For students with family incomes above $75,000, 56 percent were highly qualified and 12 percent minimally qualified” (U.S Department of Education, n.d.). Sadly, the families that are at the poverty level do not have previous experience with schooling, or they do not know how to help their children succeed in school. These families also consist mostly of Hispanics and African Americans while the high income families consist mostly of white families. The disparity between high income families and low income families portrays the differences in opportunities available to the children.


The Intervention:

One intervention that plays a pivotal role in the development of youths in underdeveloped neighborhoods is the Harlem Children’s Zone. The Harlem Children’s Zone aims at “providing comprehensive, critical support to children and families and reweaving the very fabric of community life” (Harlem Children’s Zone, n.d.). The HCZ is built on the foundation that “the success of […] children and the strength of the community go hand in hand” (Harlem Children’s Zone, n.d.); the needs of the community and the children are intertwined and must be addressed as a single entity to break the cycles of generational poverty to give children opportunities. Strong infrastructures and good planning have allowed the HCZ to tackle problems that children and families face such as constant drug use and failing schools.

 The HCZ was launched in 2000 and continuously expanded their initiatives to encompass a high number of blocks within the Harlem community. The organization today currently serves 12,509 youths, and 12,498 adults. The organization utilizes five core principles to implement their ideals. The principles consist of serving neighborhoods to create tipping points to shift the culture of the community, creating programs to support families and their children from birth to college to maximize their future outcomes, building communities among residents and institutions to create positive environments for children to thrive, evaluating the program outcomes and creating feedback loops to provide managers with sufficient data to strengthen the services of the HCZ, and developing organizational cultures of success that are entrenched in passion, accountability, leadership, and teamwork.

 The HCZ has numerous programs that range from early childhood education to college education. Through their Promise K-12 Charter Schools, they aim to fulfill their promise to get each child that goes through their system into college and finish. Admission in to the Charter School is lottery based, but preference is given to Zone families since these are the children and families that have the hardest struggles. In the early childhood education stages, the HCZ aids parents in developing their paternal skills to further develop their children at a young age. Some of these fields include brain development, communication, and intellectual stimulation. At the middle school level, the goal is to prepare children for the rigorous route of high school. The main goal is to keep students on track with their academics while balancing social and emotional aspects of daily life. The balance between exceptional education and development of cognitive thinking leads to a space where the children can interpret themselves and the surrounding environment. The high school level contains a rigorous education that provides numerous resources to help children perform on standardized tests as well as extracurriculars to help develop the skill sets of the children enrolled. College field trips and career exposure allows the children to understand the opportunities available to them and realize the steps necessary to achieve their dreams. Lastly, the College Program provides opportunities for children to gain confidence for career paths and college opportunities. With their Academic Case Management (AMC) approach, students are given personalized plans to succeed in academic and personal development.



The Harlem Children’s Zone is a non-profit organization that receives funding through donations. Initially, the HCZ had a twelve million dollar budget, but over the years, the budget kept increasing. By 2012 the HCZ had a budget of ninety five million dollars. The HCZ was able to grow their budget by promoting their cause for early childhood education accompanied by promoting through the media. One pivotal donor who aided the foundation was Stanley Druckenmiller, a hedge fund manager who’s foundation was ranked among the top one hundred in the United States in 2012. “Druckenmiller has likely given the HCZ around $100 million since 2006” (Callahan, 2014). Druckenmiller helped establish the foundations of the HCZ by providing this donation and attracted other finance philanthropists to the idea of early childhood education because this is an area where they can leverage money.


Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Harlem Children’s Zone has proven to be successful in different areas. In 2016, 98% of the senior students in the Promise Academy were accepted into college and this attracted interests of experts to conduct research on the program and its benefits. The experts, Harvard Economist Dr. Roland Fryer and Dr. Will Doble of Princeton, found that “Promise Middle School students had successfully closed the black-white achievement gap in math and narrowed the gap by half in English” (Harlem Children’s Zone, n.d.). Additionally, “girls at Promise demonstrated a 59% lower teen pregnancy rate and the incarceration rate among boys had been lowered by [essentially 100%]” (Harlem Children’s Zone, n.d.). In 2016 the HCZ had 861 students in college and over 9,000 youths participating in fitness and nutrition programs. There have been 6,059 Baby College graduates since the year 2000 with 97% of student getting accepted into college in 2017. One hundred percent of the “Pre-K Gems” tested school-ready in 2017 while 1,204 families have maintained a stable life avoiding foster care with the help of  the HCZ’s Family Support Center since 2010.

The HCZ has proven to be efficient in the field of childhood education and have done a good job of promoting and stressing the importance of childhood education. While there has not been a lot of information regarding funding for the HCZ other than donations from a couple of philanthropists, this issue can be resolved through grants and funding by the government. However, “the purpose of the zone is to end intergenerational poverty and is thus aimed at various social enterprises, not just education” (Harlem Children’s Zone, n.d.). A lot of the beneficial aspects heavily lean towards the academic side questioning whether or not the entire program suffices in bridging gaps between high and low income families. “Proximity didn’t show a statistically significant difference such that high-quality schools and high-quality schools coupled with community investments generate the same academic achievement gain” (Jobson, 2017.). A new issue develops regarding whether or not a program that benefits a student and their family really poses that much more benefit than a program that just benefits the student. Community Development Projects already have a difficult time receiving funding from the government and unfortunately the Harlem Children’s Zone is not the cheapest program in terms of New York School Districts, spending about $16,000 per student. “The richest 10 percent of New York school districts spend $28,754 per student per student, much higher than the cost of educating students in the Harlem Children’s Zone and three times the national average” (Jobson, 2017); but unfortunately this may not be enough to convince the government to allocate funding to the program.

The new administration should support the HCZ and their initiatives and expand the organization to other parts of the country. Again, the dilemma they need to consider is whether or not they should only take certain aspects from the HCZ or use the entire program. Regardless, tackling the problem of early childhood education within the communities and then expanding out is a sufficient way to create awareness and success. Educating parents and teaching them how to help their kids pursue their dreams and reach their potentials is a statement that a lot of people will support. The HCZ has produced great results which has caught the eye of many people and organizations and is a great stepping stone for developing future programs and initiatives.    


  • “About HCZ – Helping Kids Succeed.” Harlem Children’s Zone. Accessed November 06, 2018.
  • Callahan, David. “Who’s the Harlem Children’s Zone $100 Million Donor?” Inside Philanthropy. January 22, 2014. Accessed November 06, 2018.
  • Ferguson, HB, S. Bovaird, and MP Mueller. “The Impact of Poverty on Educational Outcomes for Children.” October 12, 2007. Accessed December 2, 2018.
  • Jobson, Denzell. “Is the Harlem Children’s Zone Accomplishing Its Goal? Should HUD’s Promise Zone Initiative Be the Future of American Public Education?” Education Studies. May 4, 2017. Accessed December 05, 2018.
  • “Promise Academy® Charter Schools.” Harlem Children’s Zone. Accessed November 06, 2018.
  • U.S. Department of Education. Home. Accessed December 05, 2018.
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