Rich Culture, Poor Markets: Why Do Latino Parents Forgo Preschooling?
by Bruce Fuller, Costanza Eggers-Pierola, Susan D. Holloway, Xiaoyan Liang & Marylee F. Rambaud - 1996
Debates rage in the K-12 sector over the probable effects of school-choice programs often with scarce evidence of their institutional dynamics and local effects. Meanwhile, the preschool sector has become a lively and sizable mixed market of public and private organizations, financed by parental fees and over $6 billion in public funds each year. The sector offers an intriguing setting for studying the long-term access and equity effects that result from liberalized market conditions. This article focuses on the considerably lower proportion of Latino parents who select a formal preschool or child-care center for their three to five-year-old youngsters. We empirically focus on the influence of ethnicity, maternal education, family structure, and preliteracy practices on parents' propensity to select preschools and center-based programs. After controlling for the effects of maternal employment and household income, we find that children across all ethnic groups are less likely to enter preschools when they are younger (age three, not four-five years), when a father or a nonparent adult resides in the household, when the mother has low school attain- ment, and when children’s books are less evident in the household. Latino families are distinguished, in part, by these family characteristics; in addition, the negative relationship between Latino status and nonselection of a preschool persists after accounting for these effects. We then report initial qualitatiue evidence, revealing clear cultural conflicts that may discourage Latinos?use of preschools. We discuss the importance of understanding how ethnic variation in family-structure and cultural preferences regarding child rearing interact with secular conceptions of liberalized markets.
Debates rage in the K-12 sector over the probable effects of school-choice programsoften with scarce evidence of their institutional dynamics and local effects. Meanwhile, the preschool sector has become a lively and sizable mixed market of public and private organizations, financed by parental fees and over $6 billion in public funds each year. The sector offers an intriguing setting for studying the long-term access and equity effects that result from liberalized market conditions. This article focuses on the considerably lower proportion of Latino parents who select a formal preschool or child-care center for their three- to five-year-old youngsters. We empirically focus on the influence of ethnicity, maternal education, family structure, and preliteracy practices on parents propensity to select preschools and center-based programs. After controlling for the effects of maternal employment and household income, we find that childrenacross all ethnic groupsare less likely to enter preschools when they are younger (age three, not four-five years), when a father or a nonparent adult resides in the household, when the mother has low school attainment, and when childrens books are less evident in the household. Latino families are distinguished, in part, by these family characteristics; in addition, the negative relationship between Latino status and nonselection of a preschool persists after accounting for these effects. We then report initial qualitative evidence, revealing clear cultural conflicts that may discourage Latinos use of preschools. We discuss the importance of understanding how ethnic variation in family-structure and cultural preferences regarding child rearing interact with secular conceptions of liberalized markets.
Latino parents are not buying into the burgeoning preschool market to the same extent as white and African-American families. The proportion of Latino families with mothers working full-time that enroll their young child in a formal preschool or a child-care center is almost 25 percent below that of black families (West, Hausken, & Collins, 1993). While some may argue that Latino parents lower demand may simply stem from unequal supply of formal preschools, one study recently found that preschool supply may not be less in counties with higher proportions of Latino families (Fuller & Liang, in press). Supply levels, of course, do correspond to expressed demand, and Latino demand may be constrained by limited purchasing power, as well as by weaker community organizations than those found within African-American communities. This article focuses on family-level factors that help to explain these ethnic variations in the propensity to enroll ones child in a formal preschool. In reality, these household-level forces probably interact with the political economies found within ethnic neighborhoods that shape the organization of early childhood services.
When we focus on family-level determinants of preschool choices, we also should recognize the broader historical debate over whether modern, bureaucratized interventions will inevitably erode traditional cultural supports for raising children (Coleman, 1990; Durkheim, 1925; Rector, 1988). Many Latino parents may retain distinct economic and cultural characteristics that result in softer demand for formalized child-care services, especially as the preschool system becomes organized around market principles. If, for example, a greater share of Latina mothers stay at home with their young children and remain out of the work force, they would be less likely to use nonparental forms of care. Similarly, strong kin networks and greater availability of adults who are obliged to help out with young children may buffet the incursion of formal organizations into the child-rearing domain.
Debates rage in the K-12 sector over alleged effects of school choice and market reforms. Meanwhile, preschooling in America has quietly become a dynamic mixed market of local organizations, serving more then 4.5 million children annually (excluding kindergartens) and financed in part by $6 billion in annual government spending.1 The fact that one major ethnic group is significantly underrepresented may provide lessons regarding the long-term effects of pro-choice reformsand how ethnicity and cultural preferences may interact with market forces.
In empirically assessing how the structure of Latino families may lead to different preschool choices, we are not arguing that Latino families should stay with traditional forms of child care; nor are we necessarily suggesting that the government should boost the supply of formal preschools. We are attempting to understand why Latinos use formal preschools less than other low-income and working-class groups do, and what role, if any, demographics and culture play in their choices.
We begin by comparing Latino rates of preschool participation with that of other ethnic groups. We then assess whether Latinos relative aversion to formal preschool and child-care organizations may be related to distinct features of Latino families, including differing levels of maternal employment and education, presence of kin members in the household, and early literacy practices with their youngsters. Our evidence comes from a 1991 nationwide survey of families with young children conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES; Brick et al., 1992). We focused on families with children between the ages of three and five who were included in the first National Household Education Survey (NHES), excluding families with five-year-olds attending kindergarten. Our beginning sample included 5,095 children divided as follows: age three years, 2,240 children; four years, 2,218 children; and five years, 637 children. Our findings pertain primarily to the youngest child in surveyed families.2
While survey data are very useful in looking at nationwide patterns and in identifying economic and demographic variables related to family choices, in-depth qualitative data are required to understand how Latino parents view preschool alternatives. In order to look more deeply into the reasoning of Latina mothers as they enter, or avoid, the formal preschool market, we summarize the views of four Latina mothers from Boston who participated in our three-year study of low-income working mothers (Holloway, Fuller, Rambaud, Eggers-Piérola, & Johnson, 1995).
This article raises a dilemma for reformers who eagerly aim to broaden access to preschool and formal child-care centers, increasingly through market-oriented arrangements. Many families either possess indigenous forms of social support that traditionally have provided child care, or they see considerable cultural dissonance between these informal arrangements and formal preschools. Should earnest political activists attempt to undercut indigenous cultural patterns and ways of raising children? Or can the public-private mix of preschools adjust to the diverse preferences found among parents within different ethnic communities?
PRESCHOOL CHOICES AMONG ETHNIC GROUPS
Recent national tabulations show that 59 percent of all Latino families with children between the ages of three and five currently use some form of nonparental child care, compared with 75 percent of African-American and 69 percent of white families. Among families using nonparental care, just 39 percent of Latino families choose a formal center or preschool, compared with 58 percent of black and 54 percent of white families (West et al., 1993).
The proportion of women within ethnic groups who do not work outside the home can influence these percentages. But even when we look at nonparental care according to maternal employment status, we see that Latino families appear to be less enthusiastic about nonparental forms of child care and specifically more averse to formal preschools. Among families of all ethnic groups with mother working full-time, rates of selecting any form of nonparental care are uniformly high. But Latino mothers who work outside the home part time, or not at all, use nonparental care less than similarly employed mothers of other ethnic groups (see Figure 1).
Among the families that use nonparental care, just 32 percent of Latino families with a mother employed full-time select a preschool or formal childcare center, compared with 55 percent of black and 43 percent of white families (see Figure 2). Though less strong, the distinction holds for families with a mother employed part-time: 48, 57, and 56 percent for Latino, black, and white families, respectively. Among families using nonparental care, does the number of hours young children spend in formal preschools vary among ethnic groups? Table 1 (column 3) shows that weekly hours in a preschool are equal among Latino, African-American, and white families with mothers employed full-timethirty-eight hours per week. Latino and white youngsters do spend fewer hours in a preschool among families with mothers employed part-time: twenty-seven, thirty, and twenty hours for Latino, black, and white households, respectively. Again, this applies only to families using preschools, not parents using other forms of child care. This pattern is more distinct among families with unemployed mothers: Black youngsters spend thirty hours in preschools versus twenty-one hours for Latino children.
Are ethnic differences apparent in the quality of preschools that children attend? One indicator of preschool or child-care quality is the average number of children per class group. Compared with white parents, Latino parents tend to utilize preschools or centers that have more children in each class. Among children of mothers employed full-time who select a preschool, the difference is substantial: Latino childrens classes average seventeen children, while white childrens classes average just fourteen. Latino parents may confront lower-quality preschools overall, suppressing expressed demand.3
EXPLAINING LATINO PARENTS AVERSION TO THE PRESCHOOL MARKET
Why do Latino families select preschools less frequently than white or black families? Typically the choice of nonparental or formal child care, for all ethnic groups, has been viewed as a function of the familys economic resources and certain demographic characteristics. We considered additional family-level factors, including whether larger households with resident kin members and variable educational practices exercised by parents further help to explain preschool choices. Our full explanatory model is illustrated in Figure 3. We offer three propositions to further frame our empirical assessment of which factors explain Latino parents lower propensity to utilize preschools:
Latino parents may simply not have the economic resources to purchase formal preschooling. The argument is that Latino parents are forced, given impoverished conditions or less disposable income, to rely on traditional forms of child care, including kin members.
Latinos may have larger or more cohesive family structures in which spouses and extended family members are available to care for young children. The strength of social support and family obligationswhat economist Glenn Loury (1977) dubbed social capitalvaries across families, and this influences the demand for formal preschool (see also Coleman, 1990).
Latino parenting and early literacy practices, which might differ from those of other ethnic groups, may co-vary with parents demand for preschools and child-care centers.
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF LATINO FAMILIES
The NHES family data recorded income along a ten-point scale. With an average annual household income of $20,000 to $25,000 (corresponding to the mean ordinal-scale value of 5.1), Latino family income falls between that of blacks and whites (Table 2). For blacks, the average household income falls between $15,000 and $20,000 (4.6 scaled mean); for whites, average income is between $25,000 and $30,000 (6.7 on the ordinal scale).
Latina mothers are more likely to be unemployed outside the home than mothers in other ethnic groups: 49 percent compared with 34 percent of black and 41 percent of white mothers according to our analysis. While the proportion of Latina mothers who are formally employed full-time (37 percent) is comparable to that of white mothers (34 percent), it is below that of African-American mothers (49 percent). The proportions of Latino and black fathers currently employed, if present, are very similar (79 and 81 percent, respectively). Just 39 percent of all Latino parents reported owning their home, versus 72 percent of white parents.
Family Social Structure
Latino families are much more likely to have both parents living at home than are African-American families: 75 percent report that the father lives at home, compared with 45 percent for black families and 86 percent for white households. On the other hand, both Latinos and African Americans are more likely than whites to have a nonparent adult living in the household. The total number of individuals residing in the household is greatest in Latino families: 4.8 adults and children, versus 4.4 in white households.
Education levels are lowest for Latina mothers, with only 30 percent having any form of postsecondary schooling. Both Latina and black mothers are significantly more likely to have given birth to at least one child prior to the mothers twentieth birthday: 36 and 39 percent, respectively, compared with just 17 percent of white mothers.
Parents Educational Practices
Along with African-American parents, Latino parents are less likely than white parents to engage in educational practices at home (see Table 2). For example, 52 percent of all white parents report that they read to their child at least once each day, compared with 29 percent of Latino parents and 27 percent of black parents. White children appear to own more books, visit the library with a parent more frequently, and watch television for a shorter period of time each day; white families are more likely to receive a daily newspaper.
FAMILY CHARACTERISTICS EXPLAINING CHILD-CARE AND PRESCHOOL CHOICES
Are the above-mentioned family characteristics related to parents decision to use nonparental forms of child care? And once parents enter the childcare market, do these characteristics help to explain which families opt for a formal preschool? To answer these questions, we analyzed the impact of family ethnicity, economics, and demographics on the likelihood of selecting nonparental care. Then, for those families using nonparental care, we estimated the number of hours the child spends in nonparental care weekly, and the probability that the family would select a preschool or child-care center.
We begin by assessing the global influence of family ethnicity. We then study whether this influence is moderated by the addition of particular family characteristics and early educational practices. Where ethnicity shows a residual effect after entering all possible household-economy and demographic factors, cultural commitments that we did not measure may be at work. Keep in mind that all families are included in this analysis; the bulk of the sample is comprised of middle-class white families. They make up the referent group against which ethnic effects are estimated.
Multivariate Explanatory Findings
Latino families do tend to use forms of nonparental care less than white families, although this negative effect is not statistically significant after taking into account the highly positive effect from African-American membership (see model 1 in Table 3, logistic regression estimations). While Latino and white families are more likely to seek nonparental child care when the mother is employed and when family income is higher, African-American families are just as likely to seek nonparental child care regardless of income (model 2).
Certain aspects of family structure influence the choice of using nonparental care. Not surprisingly, older children (four- and five-year-olds) are more likely to be in nonparental care. Families with a resident father and with more than one sibling in the household are more likely to use nonparental care (this effect may be a white middle-class dynamic). Families with teenage mothers are significantly less likely to use nonparental child care (model 3).
After we take into account social class and family structure, educational practices also appear to influence the use of nonparental care (model 4). Families are more likely to choose nonparental forms of care when there are more childrens books in the household, when the child watches television for fewer hours, and when the family receives a dally newspaper. In this full model we also replace the family income variable with mothers school attainment, two closely related predictors (r=.36). Confirming earlier studies, we find that families with more highly educated mothers use nonparental care at a substantially higher rate. Note that in model 4 the decrement to chi-square cannot be compared directly with model 3, since the baseline model is not reported. However, the decrement to chi-square in model 4 is highly significant.
Among families using nonparental care, we find that children in both Latino and African-American families spend more hours in nonparental care than children in white families (logistic regression findings not shown here, but available from authors). Ethnicity remains significant even after controlling for maternal employment and family income. When family structure is taken into account, it appears that households with a resident father and more than one sibling tend to use nonparental care for more hours each week. Again, this may be a white middle-class dynamic, where relatively affluent families with two or more young children can better afford to use nonparental forms of child care. The addition of parenting practices fails to explain much of the remaining variation in hours enrolled.
Among the over 70 percent of all families who report using some form of nonparental care during the week, Latino households are less likely to use a preschool or child-care center (model 1, Table 4). Among all households, the higher the household income, the more likely it is that the family will use a formal preschool. On the other hand, if the mother is employed, the choice of a formal preschool is less likely. When mothers who are not employed opt for nonparental care, they tend to choose formal centers. Interestingly, even after accounting for variation in family income and maternal employment, Latino ethnicity remains negatively related, and African-American ethnicity becomes positively related to the use of a formal center (model 2). Initial qualitative data, reported below, illuminate facets of Latino families that appear to discourage their participation in preschools.
When we take into account family structure, we find that families with older children do tend to utilize preschools and centers more frequently, and single-parent families use preschools more than two-parent families (model 3). Households with nonparent adult members, on the other hand, use preschools less. The Latino aversion may operate through this mechanism, since Latino households more frequently have resident kin members than do white families.
Parenting practices, as a block of predictors, are more influential than the family structure factors (model 4), comparing the decrements to chisquare at the bottom of Table 4. Families that have more childrens books and more sharply limit the amount of TV viewing use preschools with greater frequency.
Summary of Survey Findings
Beyond the obvious effect of maternal employment on the use of nonparental care, the higher the family income and level of maternal education, the more likely it is that parents (a) select nonparental care and (b) select a formal preschool in particular. This is consistent with an earlier finding that the per capita supply of child-care centers is greatest in areas with more highly educated parents (Fuller & Liang, in press). We also see that intact two-parent families are more likely to use nonparental care. Yet among all families that use nonparental care, single parents are more likely to use preschools. This may be due to less social support or to higher subsidies available within low-income communities serving greater numbers of single-parent families.
Families with an older preschooler and with more than one child have a higher propensity to use nonparental care and more frequently select a preschool. Teenage mothers are less likely to use nonparental care and tend to be less likely to enroll the child in a preschool, although this latter finding is not statistically significant.
Somewhat surprising is the additional effect of parenting practices on preschool choices, even after taking into account the familys social class and structure. Families that provide a more educational and literate environment for their young child, generally defined, more frequently opt for nonparental care, and a greater proportion of these families choose a formal preschool.
Latino parents select preschools at a lower rate than other ethnic groups, even after taking into account their income, job status, education, and parenting practices. We turn next to an attempt to get behind these survey data and learn about the cultural preferences that may influence Latino parents preschool and child-care choices.
HOW DO LATINA MOTHERS SEE FORMAL PRESCHOOLS?
While these survey findings are helpful in constructing general explanatory models, they do not tell us much about how Latina mothers themselves view preschool organizations, or how they compare these small institutions with the less formal arrangements on which they have traditionally relied. To provide this more textured understanding of parents views, we studied four low-income Latina mothers with children under five years of age, interviewing them repeatedly over a three-year period. We did not, a priori, prompt mothers to make direct comparisons between formal preschools and a less formal provider. These mothers did, however, express such comparisons on their own. Two of the Latina mothers relied on a formal center; two mainly used family day-care homes when they joined the study. All four lived in impoverished or working-class Boston neighborhoods. Pseudonyms are used throughout; code numbers provide the ability to link these individuals to findings that appear in other papers (e.g., Fuller et al., in press).
While our extended conversations with these women have proven enormously helpful in understanding how they formulate their preferences for different types of child care and preschooling, we are not introducing the qualitative evidence to confirm or contradict the patterns observed in our quantitative analysis. It would be foolish to make any generalizations based on just four Latinas. We should also note that these qualitative findings represent one particular line of analysis within the broader three-year study of fourteen low-income women with young children (for a complete discussion of our qualitative methods and findings, see Holloway et al., 1995).
Three aspects of cultural congruence between mother and provider are salient in the minds of these four Latina mothers, influencing how they see and assess different child-care organizations: (1) shared language; (2) a preference for a personal connection with the provider, rather than an impersonal link; and (3) shared values in socialization and preparation for school-especially the pivotal notion of independence as defined in the Latino context of respect for authority, understanding rules, and getting along with peers.
The conflict over language differences between mother and day-care provider is a common example of cultural incongruity. Sol (SL9) initially used a Colombian baby-sitter to care for her young daughter. Now that she has switched to a formal center, she complains that most center teachers and staff are Americans. When her daughter first came home from the center, Sol could not understand her newly acquired English.
Delmy (DM14) reports that among staff that interact with her daughter, just one classroom aide can speak Spanish. Delmywho began sending childrens books in Spanish so that her daughter could read with the aidefeels that the white school staff view Latino parents as ignorant.
Sol believes that the few Latino staff in her preschool invite Hispanic parents to comment and be involved: They [the Latino staff] give us a chance to participate. Sol continues,
Luckily, the majority of the children are Hispanic, and then they got a Hispanic teacher, because theres so many Hispanic children coming in, and so they have problems communicating with the children . . . slowly, [the daughter] adapted herself bit by bit.
Delmy, who migrated from El Salvador, reports that her daughter kept repeating new English words she heard in preschool and asking what they meant in Spanish. Delmy does express a belief that learning English is a step toward greater independence. In contrast, Beatriz (BB11) strongly endorses the bilingual activities her sons Hispanic preschool teacher organizes, and chooses to keep her older son in a bilingual program. Although Beatriz is not opposed to assimilation, she wants both sons to continue developing language skills in both Spanish and English.
PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH TEACHER OR CHILD-CARE PROVIDER
Along with language, these Latina mothers frequently mention the importance of shared commitment to the childs development and of communication between provider and mother. Selma (SM12) compares the two family child-care providers that she has used in recent years. The more recent provider, who is not a Latina, is unavailable for building the kind of close bond that Selma had developed with the first, Latina, provider. Selma argues that parents are not exactly welcome there . . . it is a depressing [place] around there for parents.
Our Latina mothers talk about a compromiso, where the parent shares a commitment with the teacher or provider to the childs socialization, which must be manifested through warm personal links. Beatriz earlier used a family day-care provider whom she liked very much. She felt that this woman emphasized the need to be respectful of adults and disciplined in ones behavior. This provider has become-a friend to Beatriz, assisting with pick-ups and even helping out when Beatriz had car trouble. She found it easier to develop a close relationship with the provider because there are fewer children and families involved, relative to her later experience with a seemingly formal preschool.
Delmy talks of how the Latino staff at her daughters center are warmer and more caring (cuariñosa) than the white teacher at her daughters new kindergarten. She makes a sharp statement that the white staff are cold and rough, because they are Americans. Sol complains that one white teacher in her daughters center lacks this gentleness and affective richness, citing the time the teacher pulled her daughters shirt to correct her behavior.
When these Latina mothers feel that providers are not expressing this textured mix of warmth, openness, and discipline, dissonance often surfaces. The quality of the relationship between mother and provider is a salient indicator of how the mothers believe the child-care staff members behave with their children. If the provider is not available to discuss family issues, then he or she is unlikely to be concerned with the childs broad socialization, Delmy, for example, is deeply dissatisfied with her daughters new kindergarten teacher: The teacher is simply not concerned with her daughters life beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Here professional rationalization and set procedures may erode the broader, more effective commitment these Latina mothers expect.
SHARED VALUES IN SOCIALIZATION AND PREPARATION FOR SCHOOL
The mothers concept of educación connotes a broad agenda that emphasizes learning to get along with other children, developing respect for adult authorities, and learning the ropes of a formal school setting. Sol summarizes the benefits of preschooling: Its true that the child has to go to school and has to get used to a big group of students and know other people. In [the preschool] she has to share toys . . . she is courteous, she is taught everything.
Educación implies both learning to fit into a lateral social structure with other children and learning to follow the routines that will enable greater realización of ones potential. What might be seen in middle-class North American terms as conformity is perceived in this culture as social competence and respect. In the words of Beatriz:
My [older son] was raised alone, with me, that is, with no other children. And I think it changes when children are involved with more children . . . they manage faster, develop more. I dont think [my younger son] is more intelligent than [my older son] at his age, no. Its that [my younger son] is around more children and sees what other children are doing.
Similarly, Delmy emphasizes the number and closeness of the friends that her daughter has developed: More than anything, she likes her friends. She has many friends and talks to me a lot about them. Her teachers. She loves them a lot.
The Latina mothers talk of how the basic building blocks of socialization are established within the home, often centering on respect for adult authority and sensitivity to others. Delmy speaks of how the preschool can assist in this socialization process by teaching routines and rules. The maturation process reflected in realizarse connotes learning how to be competent and personally effective within the rules of a given situation.
The childs emerging feeling of efficacy is seen within a framework that emphasizes respect for others and clear understanding of the constitutive rules. Selma, for example, in talking about her childs developing independence, emphasizes the need to learn adaptability. Delmy also illustrates how cognitive-development aims blend with this broader conception of educución and socialization:
I prefer that she begin to think, you know. . . that she become a little more mature, [so] she knows when its time to play and when its time to work, because children also need that. And more so in our culture. . . . I remember in kinder we learned a lot. I knew how to read, write. I would add and subtract.
Some mothers link these cognitive learning goals with broader parenting objectives. For example, Sol talks of how you have to sacrifice yourself to get ahead. She broke away from her own strict traditional upbringing in Puerto Rico; thus Sol emphasizes the role of formal schooling in establishing independence. But her conception of independence is embedded in respect, authority, and learning basic rules of the school organization. In this way, preschool should help her child get ready for real school.
These Latina mothers reveal, like many parents, a real concern with the early socialization and schooling of their young children. They are focused on getting their youngsters ready for school. But they often see the local array of formal preschools and child-care centers as foreign turf. In some cases these preschools are staffed by non-Spanish speaking staff; in some instances, these mothers feel little interpersonal connection with the director or teaching staff. Our qualitative study finds no volitional aversion to formal preschools. We do see-through their own eyes-negative attributes of existing preschools within these mothers particular cultural logic.
CONCLUSIONS: THE CULTURAL LOGIC OF PRESCHOOL CHOICES
The intensifying debate over school choice remains preoccupied with the mechanics of market-oriented financing schemes, such as vouchers, or the uncertain task of creating schools that look innovative. Instead, we emphasize that parents and families are embedded in particular cultures that offer familiarity, social membership, and often kin support. Mothers diverse cultural scripts for child rearing are energized and reproduced over time through normative gender roles, maternal employment patterns, ethnic customs, and tacitly reproduced parenting practices. We are just beginning to learn how these cultural forces can buffer the earnest intentions of distant policymakers. Pro-choice reformers usually assume that parents exist in a cultural and normative vacuum, a secular and idealized conception of individual rationality.
Early childhood educators and family policy activists, inside and outside government, have made great strides over the past three decades in expanding the availability of preschools. Yet we have shown that Latino families are still less committed to these small-scale institutions than are other ethnic groups. In some areas, Latino parents may simply be less able to find affordable preschooling. But cultural conflicts represent deeper constraints. Latino families retain the traditional strength of kin in the household and neighbors close by who often care for young children. Despite low household incomes, Latina mothers often remain at home, or on the fringes of the formal labor force, primarily raising their young children. The ongoing rationalization of early childhoodnow endorsed by most policymakers and professional groupshas not penetrated as deeply into the consciousness of Latino families as it has into that of white middleclass and black families.
We should not romanticize the situation of Latino families. Indeed, their lower rate of preschool participation is related to Latina mothers low levels of formal education, high incidence of teenage pregnancy, and relative inattention to early literacy development. The policy dilemma, of course, is how to alter those practices that constrain choices while not eroding the traditional social supports that are so nurturing of young children.
Public policies often operate as rather dull instruments, both in attempting to alter the behavior of local families and in responding to evolving demands confronting the American family. In sharp contrast to black parents, Latino families are not consistently responding to preschool policies. Our qualitative evidence reveals that institutional factors may play a role. Some are as simple as the scarcity of Spanish-speaking staff in many preschools. Other factors, such as whether formal child-care providers should acquire the values and child-rearing practices that many Latino parents hold sacred, are more difficult to rectify. If policymakers remain unable to devise more culturally convergent forms of preschoolingwhile continuing to stigmatize indigenous forms of child socializationthe result for Latino families will be far from empowering.
This article stems from the Harvard Child Care and Family Policy Project, funded by the Packard Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the AERA Grants Program with support from the National Science Foundation. Dissemination activities have been supported, in part, by the Lilly Endowment. Our collaboration with Margaret Keiley and Judith Singer has greatly contributed to our thinking and to this article. Thanks also are expressed to Susan Liddicoat and Gary Natriello for nudging us to sharpen the argument and presentation of findings.
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