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Arkansas State University

Diversity and Implicit Bias Affects Early Childhood Education

The traditional emphasis on equality of opportunity in early childhood education (ECE) is trending rapidly toward providing equity through teaching and services shaped to meet each preschooler’s unique needs.

However, equitable teaching requires educators to recognize their implicit biases and attitudes that can negatively impact early learners, particularly in socioeconomically and racially/ethnically diverse classrooms. The impact can set young learners up for difficulties later in education and life.

By understanding those biases and eliminating behaviors that perpetuate them, educators can help classrooms become equitable and inclusive for all students. A Master of Science in Early Childhood Services online program provides understanding of developmental differences and influences, enabling educators to create equitable learning environments. They are also prepared to foster collaborative relationships with families and communities to support children’s development.

The Impact of Implicit Bias

As an organization devoted to equity and access for early childhood learners, believes “childhood academic experiences are uniquely critical for setting a lifetime learning trajectory.”

An upward trajectory occurs “[w]hen schools provide their students with resources that fit individual circumstances, [so] the entire classroom environment improves,” notes.

Generally, equity is most understood in terms of race — implicit bias is “racism within the classroom,” said Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka of the Center for Early Education Research and Evaluation at HighScope Educational Research Foundation. goes on to include family crises, mental health issues, lack of healthcare, lack of access to food, homelessness or living in a temporary shelter [or] still learning the English language among the barriers to inclusivity rooted in implicit bias.

Communities’ failure to remediate those implicit biases include disproportionate school disciplinary action, low academic achievement, as well as poor health and emotional management issues.

Benefits of a Diverse Learning Environment to Students

The Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council cited two successful examples of programs that promote socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diversity in classrooms in A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education.

One of those programs, the Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans, used an option in the state’s ECE guidelines to enroll tuition-paying children and children who receive state funding in the same classrooms to create a socioeconomically and racially diverse pre-K learning environment.

As a result of this integration, student performance on the state’s pre-K math assessment rose from 25 to 80%, and English language assessment was more impressive, with mastery rising from 10 to 80%.

The authors of A Better Start said the Morris Jeff results support the idea that diversity improves cognitive development in young children: “In the long run, it can foster far greater social understanding and social equity. Taking a stand on quality for all children commits our society to the kinds of classroom-level integration that are long overdue, especially for our youngest learners.

Trends Toward Creating More Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms

Writing in Greater Good Magazine, Jill Suttie, Psy.D., offers ideas that teachers can use to recognize and overcome their implicit biases for creating a more equitable learning environment. Her list suggests that educators:

  1. Cultivate an awareness of their biases to improve interactions with students, decrease a sense of unease in interracial contexts and make better decisions. (Harvard University’s Project Implicit offers online self-assessments of implicit social attitudes.)
  2. Work to increase empathy and empathetic communication by learning about their students’ lives and environmental influences.
  3. Practice mindfulness and loving-kindness, which some research has shown to be effective in reducing implicit bias.
  4. Develop cross-group friendships in their own lives, which has been shown to reduce prejudice, preference for social hierarchy and stress in intergroup situations.

“By working at countering implicit bias in themselves, they can truly make a difference in the lives of their students, making them feel safe, cared for, and welcome in the classroom,” Dr. Suttie concludes.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services program.


Greater Good Magazine: Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life: Four Ways Teachers Can Reduce Implicit Bias

Harvard University: Project Implicit

Poverty and Race Research Action Council: A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education Addressing Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Education

The Century Foundation: About Why Understanding Equity vs Equality in Schools Can Help You Create an Inclusive Classroom

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