The Annual Policy Connection Student Blog Contest-3rd place winner
The Office of Government & External Affairs, and Strategic Partnerships invited students share their thoughts on some of today’s most hot topics in policy and politics in the Student Blog Contest. Below is the third place blog.
What if all four-year-olds had access to high-quality preschool programs? Of course, in 2011 almost 50% of four-year-olds attended a preschool program, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. However, many of these programs would not be considered high quality. President Obama argued in his January State of the Union that prekindergarten programs are not reaching enough children in time for it to make a difference. In order for these early education programs to be successful and purposeful, they need highly-educated teachers, a curriculum to enrich young minds (not just memorize ABC’s and 123’s), and an appropriate child to teacher ratio.
If all preschool programs were required to meet quality standards, then every three- and four-year-old would have the same opportunity of an early education. Often, these high-quality preschools are reserved for wealthy families who can afford the expensive tuition. On the other hand, our nation’s poorest children are eligible for Head Start—a program designed for low-income and disadvantaged children to receive early literacy, math, and language skills, as well as have access to hot meals and dental care. Then that leaves the middle-class children, who may be from families who earn just over the poverty line and are therefore ineligible for Head Start, or maybe they don’t earn enough for private preschool programs. Universal preschool can allow every child access to a preschool education that prepares them for the rigorous academic challenges ahead in elementary school, and beyond.
There are opposing views to universal prekindergarten, that it is glorified babysitting, rather than education, and that the money for these types of programs just isn’t there. However, a study conducted in 11 states concluded that there were gains made over a year of prekindergarten in math, literacy, and language development, but that these gains can be made into leaps if the quality of the program were higher. Adults who were enrolled in high-quality early education programs are less likely to be arrested, and more likely to earn a higher income and have better health. David Kirp, author of The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids First Politics, argued “the children’s experience [in preschool] occurred at a particularly opportune moment in their lives. It gave them the tools they needed to do better in school. When they succeeded academically they became more committed to education…then, because a diploma brought new economic opportunities, crime became a less appealing option” (p.55).
In my own classroom, every day I see how a year in prekindergarten is changing the course of the future for my students. Many of these four-year-olds come from disadvantaged households, with parents who just reached their twenties and don’t know how to read, let alone raise a child. One student in particular, a beautiful dark-haired little girl came to preschool in September only knowing how to speak Spanish and did not know how to interact with her classmates, let alone know her letters and numbers. Now, almost seven months into the school year, she solve a problem with a friend, she knows the letters, and she can write and spell her own name. Given the rigorous curriculum currently in Kindergarten and later elementary school, especially with the implementation of the Common Core, if this child had not had a year in prekindergarten, she would have been far behind her peers, who are expected to come to school knowing how to sit still, be social, and, of course, know letters, numbers, and how to count.
Universal preschool can open doors to all the children in our nation, and give them a chance at a high-quality early education. If we do not invest our time and money into educating preschoolers, then we will surely pay for it down the road with low standardized test scores and a graduating class unmotivated to continue on in their learning. We owe it to our littlest learners to take action and make sure there is access to high-quality preschool programs.
Cate Caporizzo is a graduate student in the Care and Education—continuing practitioner program. She currently works as a pre-k teacher and the experience challenges her to spread awareness of the importance of preschool.