Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The achievement gap between Hispanic and black students and their white and Asian peers remains stubbornly in place, according to new figures released today by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Obama administration has said one way to close the gap is by expanding access to early childhood education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan reiterated that point during a Wednesday conference call with reporters. Here are two charts that show the administration might have a point:


The United States ranks 28 out of 38 countries when it comes to the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool, according to a 2012 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Enrollment is nearly universal in countries like France, the Netherlands, Spain and Mexico. Rich kids, poor kids — they’re almost all enrolled in preschool. But less than 70 percent of four-year-olds in the United States attend preschool, and it’s overwhelmingly minority and poor kids who miss out.


The consequences are predictable. Low-income children in the United States are more likely than their middle- and upper-income peers to enter kindergarten behind in reading, math and social skills and spend their school years trying to make up lost ground.

Why are so many kids in the U.S. not enrolled?

This second chart helps explain why.


The government doesn’t invest in providing low-income kids access to preschool the way other countries do, which, Duncan said, is a “self-inflicted wound.”

While countries like Denmark and Iceland spend at least a full percentage of their country’s GDP on early childhood education, the United States spends closer to .4 percent of GDP on such programs.


While the Obama administration has pushed for universal preschool in the United States, the likelihood that all American four-year-olds will be enrolled in early childhood education programs anytime soon is slim.

Head Start, a federally funded early childhood education program that serves low-income kids, is set to lose thousands of spaces in the coming years.


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.