|“||90 percent of the brain has been developed by the time a child is 5 years old.||”|
Over the past years, time and resources have been invested in order to improve the K-12 education in the United States. These efforts may be in jeopardy if more importance is not given to early education for 3- and 4- year old children. School readiness is an important factor that needs to be considered, in order to benefit the educational progress. Studies are showing that at risk children are not prepared enough to enter kindergarten, compared to high income children. One of the greatest setbacks is the lack of cohesiveness among federal and local governments when administering programs. The Good Start, Grow Smart early literacy initiative was launched by the Bush Administration in 2002. This initiative was created in order to improve children’s school readiness. To accomplish this the Federal Government intends to broaden the goals of the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and their funding (Clearinghouse on International Developments). Taking all these factors into consideration, early childhood education is a critical component in America’s effort to improve education and create a world class workforce. (A Call To Action From the Business Community).
|“||As states implement the No Child Left Behind Act, designed to ensure that all students are proficient in reading and math by 213-14, we also need to ensure that children enter school ready and able to succeed. Research shows, however, that far too many children enter school ill-prepared.||”|
—Corporate Voices for Working Families
The National Research Council released From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, a compilation of current scientific data and knowledge regarding the development of children from birth to age five. Through this research four important findings were identified. First, it is important to understand that the development of the brain, which is affected by early experience, lays down the foundation for moral development, intelligence and emotional health. Secondly the ability for healthy early development depends on nurturing relationships. Thirdly, school readiness is greatly affected by the way children think and more importantly, how they feel. Lastly, children’s needs are not being met amongst the vastly changing society (From Neurons to Neighborhoods).
It is being discovered that by the time children enter kindergarten at the age of five, there is already a wide gap in their readiness for school. It is known that lower SES children enter kindergarten with poor skills in the major areas of learning and development (Lee and Burkam), compared to the higher SES children which are performing 60 percent higher in achievement tests. This can be attributed to many factors, including lower attendance in programs prior to entering kindergarten (Lee and Burkam).
Typically, children’s abilities are related to their families’ income levels. Yet the quality of early childhood experiences can make a tremendous difference and make a difference regardless of family characteristics. Research has shown that children of both high and low SES, who are involved in high-quality pre kindergarten programs, perform significantly higher on measures of abilities and skills that are vital to their success in school (West, Denton, and Reaney). Not only are these programs critical for low SES children but middle SES children can significantly benefit from early childhood education programs (Lee and Burkam). It is important that the existing gap between low, middle, and high SES children when entering kindergarten be reduced in order to ensure success for all students.
In order for there to be a successful early childhood education program, there must be a set of defining principles. Six main principles have been identified and will be used by The Business Roundtable (BRT) and Corporate Voice for Working Families (CVWF) to create policies and evaluate current programs. The six principles include: learning, standards, teachers, parents, accountability, partnership (A Call To Action From the Business Community).
The first principle is learning because in order for the system to be successful, children’s learning should be the central mission. In order to accomplish this, positive learning experiences are needed to create interconnections between a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development(A Call To Action From the Business Community).
The second principle is standards, which will ensure the quality of early childhood education systems, and alignment with state academic standards. Objective, curriculum, and research are all aspects of creating and maintaining standards of these programs.
The third principle is teachers; it is vital that teachers and staff possess the skills, attitudes and knowledge to help children enter school prepared and ready to succeed. This can be achieved through the employment of skills teachers with college degrees and adequate knowledge (A Call To Action From the Business Community).
The fourth principle is parents; parents are considered children’s first teacher and these parents need to be offered high quality programs for their children to enroll in. It is key to be able to make early childhood programs accessible to all families, regardless of their socio-economic status(A Call To Action From the Business Community).
The fifth principle is accountability; a successful early childhood program must be accountable for measurable results. Data collection plays an important role in identifying the best practices, performance and assessment systems (A Call To Action From the Business Community).
The sixth principle is partnerships; this principle builds interconnecting partnerships that will govern, finance, sustain and improve the system (A Call To Action From the Business Community).
|“||The access of children 3-5 years from ethnic and low- income backgrounds is a serious concern. Only 45% of children from 3-5 years from low-income families are enrolled in pre-school, compared to 75 % among high- income families.||”|
There are currently a variety of programs being offered for 3 and 4 year olds. The problem is that high risk children do not have the same accessibility to these enriching programs as other children. Current programs include: head start, early head start , Pre-K and other smaller programs.
Head start is a federal program created for children from low-income families. This preschool program is operated by local non-profit organization and are available in most counties throughout the United States (Give Your Child A Head Start). Many other services are provided in conjunction with head start such as medical care and availability to healthy meals. Head start is designed to assist all children in succeeding, enriched with development activities and parent involvement to ensure progress among the participants. Early head start was created as a predecessor to head start, to further ensure school readiness when children enter preschool and Kindergarten. This program believes that children living in high- risk environments need additional aid and support to ensure healthy development. The gaps found in children’s social and cognitive abilities are present even prior to their entrance into head start programs at the age of four (Early Head Start Works). Thus this program was created for 3 year old children at high- risk, in order to further ready them for head start and other preschool programs. Although this is a high quality program made available to low SES families, less than three percent of these children are being served by the program (Early Head Start Works).
Pre-K is a state funded program available to three and four year olds in the U.S. The Pre-K program is equipped with well qualified teachers, and different levels of funding through states. Yet only about 15 percent of children eligible are taking advantage of the Pre- K program (Pre-K Now). Pre-K is a high quality program with many researched benefits. It creates successful students , responsible adults and stronger communities (The Benefits of High-Quality Pre-K). The Chicago Longitudinal Study, has provided data regarding the benefits of Pre- K programs. The participants of this program have higher high school graduation rates, do better on standardized tests, and have reduced grade repetitions (Chicago Longitudinal Study).
Benefit vs. Cost
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), the benefits of providing quality preschool education to 3- and 4- year olds outweighs the cost of providing such services (Cost of Providing Quality Preschool). The estimated return for every dollar invested is $7, based on the reduced costs of remedial education and increased earnings. NIEER estimates that the average benefits will be $25,000 per child, as the result of a universally accessible program for 3- and 4-year-olds. The benefits of such a program considerably outnumber the costs of creating and providing this program.
Principles to Policy
|“||In 1990, the nation’s governors and the Administration set as their first National Goal that “ By the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn.||”|
There are many early education programs available, funded through many different sources. Yet these programs are not reaching the children they need to reach. Some programs do not meet the high quality standards, and many programs are simply not as accessible as they should be. Taking into consideration the core principles of a successful early childhood education system, policies need to be implemented in order to see the fruition of these principles. These principles can be used to formulate interconnected state and federal policies, in order to offer a more cohesive early education program for all(A Call To Action From the Business Community).
Future progress of the current education system in America is dependant on the implementation of an early education program. As research has demonstrated, there are tremendous gaps between the school readiness of children from varying social economic backgrounds. In order for all children to be prepared for kindergarten, there must be a universal accessibility to a proper policy driven early childhood education system.
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- Chicago Longitudinal Study. (2004, August). Retrieved from http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/cls/.
- Corporate Voices for Working Families. Early Childhood Education: A Call to Action from the Business Community. Retrieved June 1st, 2007, from http://www.businessroundtable.org/pdf/901.pdf.
- Give Your Child A Head Start. Retrieved June 1st, 2007, from http://eclks.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/for%Parents/.
- Lee, V.E. and Burkam, D.T. (2002). Inequality at the Starting Gate. Washington, D.C.: The Economic Policy Institute.
- National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. J.P. Shonkoff and D.A. Phillips, (Eds.). Board of Children, Youth and Families, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- Pre K- Now. (2007). Pre-K Now. Retrieved from http://www.preknow.org/advocate/factsheets/benefits.cfm.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (2002). Early Head Start Information Folder, www.headstartinfo.org/infocenter/ehs_tkit3.htm.
- West, J., Denton, K., and Reaney, L. (2001). The Kindergarten Year. NCES 2001-023. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
- Zero to Three. (2005,January). Early Head Start Works. Retrieved from http://www.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/ehs.pdf?docID=565.