Inequality begins early. Most of the gaps in children’s development and achievement levels are present well before children first set foot in kindergarten. The period between birth and kindergarten is a critical time for child development, and disparities that begin early in children’s lives contribute to starkly different long-term outcomes. Yet, the U.S. government invests less in children under the age of five than do most other developed nations. In Cradle to Kindergarten, Ajay Chaudry and his colleagues build on a wealth of scientific, economic and education research to assemble an investment plan in American early childhood policies that would improve lifelong educational and economic outcomes and reduce the widening disparities between children from economically advantaged families and those from middle-class and more disadvantaged families. The U.S. has a fragmented and inadequate set of services for early care and education, and most children do not receive high-quality early learning opportunities. Good quality childcare and preschool in the U.S. are scarce and prohibitively expensive for many middle class and most disadvantaged families, so primarily more affluent families receive their benefits. Rather than offering disparate, piecemeal policy solutions, the cradle to kindergarten strategy envisioned would consist of paid parental leave, a guarantee of childcare assistance for children with working parents, universal early education starting at age 3, and a reimagined Head Start that focuses health and education interventions for children under age 3 in areas of concentrated poverty.
Ajay Chaudry is a public policy expert who is currently a research scholar at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and conducts policy research and analysis on child poverty, children’s well-being and development, the social safety net, and early childhood services. Chaudry served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012-15) in the administration of President Barack Obama, and as the Deputy Commissioner for Early Childhood Development at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (2004-06). He has also been a senior fellow and director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute (2007-12), and a faculty member at the New School for Social Research (1992-2004). He is the author of Putting Children First: How low-wage working mothers manage child care and co-author of Cradle to Kindergarten: A new plan to combat inequality. He received his A.B. from Columbia University, and M.P.P. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.