I just returned from our state’s annual Early Childhood Higher Education Summit feeling a mix of angry and frustrated. Our NAEYC state affiliate maintains a staff of attorneys and advocates who actively participate in legislative conversations and hearings dealing with early childhood education. This month, a bill comes up for a vote on whether or not to increase funding for our state-supported preschool programs. This has stirred considerable debate, as I know exists in other states around the country, as well. A spokesman from our advocacy team highlighted conversations she had with legislators and said there is still a good number who aren’t convinced preschool makes any difference- and therefore may not be worth the money.
This seems unbelievable to me, considering the past, current, and ongoing available research to the contrary. What don’t these people understand? Can we just break it down into terms they are capable of processing? This isn’t just blind spending. This is a real investment in everyone’s future.
How about some simple facts:
A child’s brain grows to 90% of adult size by age five, so providing proper experiences and stimulation are critical. This growth supports cognitive (early language, literacy, and math), social (metacognition, empathy, prosocial), attention, self-regulation, and executive function skills. As a child grows up, the skills he acquires later will cumulatively build on these early ones.
The achievement gap between low-income children and those in higher socio-economic groups is already apparent by 18 months. Waiting until Kindergarten to try to close it is a colossal waste of precious time! A related benefit of preschool is the availability of early screening and treatment of developmental delays, which can provide services and make a difference for children.
Evidence suggests that one or two years of early childhood education provided in a developmentally appropriate program will improve a child’s early language, literacy, and math skills- representing between ½ to a full year of additional learning than he would have attained without access to preschool.
Recent research has found that children who attended Pre-K were less timid, had higher levels of attentiveness, and were more engaged in the classroom.
Investing in quality preschool programs create substantial returns, and this is especially true with at-risk children. For example, a recent evaluation of the Chicago Public Schools Child Parent Centers found that for every dollar invested, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over those children’s lifetimes. This is due to higher rates of college attendance, employment in higher skilled jobs, lower rates of grade retentions and special education placements, and less criminal arrests, welfare spending, and unemployment.
And, how about this for an attention-getter, Mr. Legislator:
Research tells us that without quality preschool, at-risk children are 25% more likely to drop out of school and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
Some of the most important take-aways from attending a quality preschool may be things other than academics. They are skills that enable people to interact appropriately with others. Children learn important skills like controlling their tempers, keeping an open mind, and the ability to focus. These are things they will need to be successful in the workplace and in life in general.
If we project 20 years into the future, without investments in early childhood education, we can expect a less educated workforce, lower earning ability, less taxes being paid, and an increased reliance on preventable social services.
Even during rough fiscal times, investing in high quality early childhood programs is one of the most effective choices the government can make.
As Early Childhood educators, let’s spread the word and make this happen.