FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SANTA ROSA, CA – Only one in five Sonoma County children were ready for kindergarten when they entered school last fall, according to a report released today by the county Department of Human Services that found continuing disparities along ethnic, racial and economic lines.
Kindergarten readiness declined in Sonoma County for the sixth consecutive year, according to the report by Road to Early Achievement and Development for Youth, an initiative led by the Department of Human Services and funded by the Comisión First 5 del Condado de Sonoma.
“This study shows we are not doing enough to support families with very young children,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “If we do not reverse this trend, the impact on our community will only grow over time. We must do better and work together to make Sonoma County a place where a family’s race, ethnicity or income does not determine the academic success of their children.”
Overall, only 22 percent of Sonoma County children were ready for kindergarten last fall, down from 31 percent the previous year and 41 percent in 2016. Children of color are less likely to be ready for kindergarten than white, Asian and Pacific Islander children. Over the last six years, an average of 26 percent of Latino children, 33 percent of Black children and 33 percent of Indigenous/Native American children were ready for kindergarten. In comparison, 42 percent of white children, 50 percent of Asian children and 58 percent of Pacific Islander children were ready for kindergarten.
School readiness has declined in Sonoma County over a six-year period marked by repeated wildfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic, emergencies that have disrupted early-learning programs and taken a toll on many families’ health and finances. During the first nine months of the pandemic, more than 200 of the 608 child care and preschool facilities in Sonoma County closed, according to the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County, known as 4Cs. Today, about 7,800 children are enrolled in local day care and preschool programs, down from nearly 12,800 before the pandemic.
“We are seeing the decline in kindergarten readiness play out in our schools,” said Amie Carter, Sonoma County superintendent of schools. “Students who enter kindergarten unprepared are more likely to struggle academically, and we know how vital the first years of school are in ensuring our children can read well enough to support learning. Lack of preparedness can also mean that students struggle with social-emotional skills needed to succeed in kindergarten. Unfortunately, many of these kids will remain behind as they progress through school.”
Research shows that a child’s level of readiness to succeed when entering kindergarten is strongly correlated with long-term school success, higher earning potential and improved health. Positive factors that contribute to kindergarten readiness include access to quality early child care and education, early language development activities such as reading, singing and playing at home, and nurturing relationships that can mitigate early trauma. Barriers to school readiness include poverty, lack of access to learning environments that reflect diverse students’ culture and language, the high cost of quality child care, and lack of internet access.
Parents play a critical role in preparing children for school, said Angie Dillon-Shore, executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, which funds the annual READY assessment.
“Parents are their child’s first and most important teacher,” Dillon-Shore said. “They can ensure a language-rich environment at home from birth, including daily reading, storytelling, music and lots of interaction, as well as seeking out high-quality early learning programs, such as Pasitos Playgroups, play-based preschool programs and licensed family child care.”
The disparities along ethnic, racial and economic lines have been consistent over the six-year period tracked by the studies and reflect the impacts of segregation and discrimination that compound over time, Dillon-Shore said.
“What may look like an achievement gap is actually an opportunity gap reflective of systemic and structural racism,” she said. “Children who have more opportunities that support their cognitive and social-emotional development from birth are far more likely to be ready to succeed when starting kindergarten. For government and community-based organizations, policies supporting family economic mobility, asset-building and power-building opportunities for Black, Latinx and Indigenous/Native American parents will also help children thrive.”
The 2022-23 READY data found that children who attended preschool and other early childhood education programs were almost twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten as children who lacked those opportunities. Family income was another predictive factor in school readiness. Children in families with incomes of $100,000 or above were more than twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten than children in families with incomes of $34,999 or less. The negative impacts of poverty, including food and housing insecurity and parental stress, are closely tied to children’s social-emotional and cognitive development.
This year, READY conducted focus groups and interviews with parents of children from the lowest-scoring demographic groups to better understand the gaps in kindergarten readiness.
“The results of these conversations validate what the numbers already tell us. There are large barriers – including racism, the cost of child care and early access to English – that impact a family’s ability to prepare their children for kindergarten,” said Norine Doherty, READY project manager with the Department of Human Services. “We know there are many historical factors that make it difficult for families of color to access services that support early childhood education. We need to see investments that support those communities.”
The report is based on results from eight Sonoma County school districts utilizing the Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile, a screening tool used nationally to measure children’s readiness for school. The report was supplemented by surveys, focus groups and interviews with parents of kindergarten students. The complete 2022-23 report is available at the First 5 Sonoma County website: https://first5sonomacounty.org/wp-content/uploads/READY-Annual-Report_2023.pdf
Several efforts are underway to improve school readiness. Last year, the state Department of Education began phasing in a program that will provide universal pre-kindergarten by the start of the 2025-26 school year to every 4-year-old in California, regardless of their family’s income. Additional state funding has been allocated to support the needs of dual-language learners.
The READY Project is funded by First 5 Sonoma County and managed by the Sonoma County Human Services Department’s Upstream Investments Initiative. Since 2013, the READY project has conducted research to support the pilot and adoption of a common kindergarten readiness assessment throughout Sonoma County school districts.
Kristen Font, Communications Specialist
Sonoma County Human Services Department