Ramona is a hard-working, loving, single mother of two preschool aged girls, Theresa and Rosa. She works overtime every week, just to make ends meet for her and her children. Ramona and her children are in poverty. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that Theresa and Rosa will struggle to receive the quality preschool education they need to in order to succeed throughout Kindergarten, grade school, high school and into adulthood. According to one study by Sum and Fogs, students living in poverty rank in the 19th percentile on academic assessments, while their peers who are part of mid-upper income families rank in the 66th percentile on the same assessments (Lacour and Tissington, 2011). “The achievement gap refers to significant disparity in low educational success between groups of children: low-income and minority children as compared to higher income and non-minority children” (Early Education for All). This academic achievement gap is unacceptable and every child deserves the chance to excel to their fullest potential in school, in order to prepare for adulthood.
Preschool is a pertinent part of a young child’s education, which has been proven successful many times in preparing children for grades K-12, and beyond. “Practitioners and researchers alike contend that the enrichment of preschool makes a difference especially for children living in poverty” (Loucks, Slaby, and Stelwagon). By providing all children with access to preschool programs, the educational achievement gap can be reduced. Unfortunately, since preschool is not a government mandated educational requirement, preschool must be privately funded, leaving families who are unable to pay tuition costs are. This is an opportunity that Theresa and Rosa would miss out on because Ramona cannot afford the tuition. Because of these lasting cognitive and social development benefits that preschool can provide, it should federally funded educational requirement. Quality preschool education needs to be regarded as a constitutional right, not a socioeconomic privilege.
There is an increasing educational achievement gap in the United States, between children of low-income families, and their peers, due to their limited access to a preschool education. It has been proven time and time again, that underprivileged children, who are not provided with the access to a preschool education, perform lower in later academic learning, than those who were afforded a preschool education. One study in California revealed that second and third grade students of low-income families who did not attend preschool were significantly less proficient in English and Mathematics (Loucks, Slaby, Stelwagon, 2005). Another California survey illustrated that poverty stricken children entering kindergarten were six months behind their wealthy peers in pre-reading skills. (Loucks, Slaby, Stelwagon, 2005).
Children of low-income families are also much more likely to encounter environmental and health risk factors. (Early Education for All). These risks can potentially impede on a child’s readiness for school. For example, children living in poverty have been proven to begin kindergarten with significantly less mathematical knowledge than their peers. “This would suggest that the preschool experience is a mechanism to level the playing field and fully prepare students to succeed in kindergarten” (Loucks, Slaby, Stelwagon, 2005). By entering the early grades without having the proper pre-requisite education and skill sets, children run the risk of falling behind in class. When a student enters kindergarten unprepared, the students risk of grade retention increases, not only in kindergarten, but also in the grade school years to follow. Catching up to the required proficiency level becomes harder and harder for the student, and in some cases, the student will simply give up and either fail or drop out.
Access to preschool education for these children can help to close the educational achievement gap, and prevent grade retention, by providing these children with the tools and skills necessary to prepare for Kindergarten and beyond. The United States of America prides itself on its educational standards, and even has ratified educational laws which require children to meet proficiency standards in reading and mathematics at certain grade levels, as indicated in the No Child Left Behind Act. The law incentivizes those school districts which show improvement in test scores, and enforce corrective actions upon those districts who continuously fail to improve student proficiencies. Still, these underprivileged children are left behind, and find it continually challenging to catch up, as the school grades progress.
A child’s odds of academic accomplishment are maximized when attending a high quality preschool program, especially within the lower-income communities. This theory has been put to the test. In New Jersey lays a group of the thirty one most poverty stricken districts in the state called the Abbott Districts. The state of New Jersey granted these districts a program which funds preschool education within the districts to their children in order to close the achievement gap for poverty stricken students. The results were noteworthy, and the funds allocated to this cause were well spent. Children who attended this program improved on their math, language and literacy skills. The kindergartners who had previously attended the program closed the academic achievement gap by a remarkable fifty percent between their own literacy scores and those of the national average (Early Education for All, 2005). These results proved the program to be a great success.
Studies have been conducted all over the United States, pertaining to children in poverty and the profound effect a preschool program can have on each child’s continued education. In a fifteen year follow up study in Chicago, Illinois, children who attended preschool were proven to be significantly more academically successful than their peers who did not attend preschool. At the age of thirteen, this group of children’s academic scores was sixty percent higher than those who did not attend. By the age of twenty, this same group who had attended preschool was thirty percent more likely to complete high school, and forty percent less likely to experience grade retention or be enrolled in special education classes (Early Education for All, 2005). It is important to remember, however, that although the strongest support for the advantages of preschool education indicates that underprivileged children benefit most, all children, regardless of socioeconomic status can benefit academically from a preschool education. When a child has had the privilege of attending a quality preschool program, that child is also much more likely to adjust socially in adulthood, than those who did not attend a preschool program.
According to Loucks, Sharon, Slaby and Stelwagon, those who have attended a quality preschool program are also less likely to have long periods of unemployment or welfare, and drop out of school. (“Why is preschool essential in closing the achievement gap?” par. 1). Adults who attended preschool as a child also have been proven to reduce delinquency and crime throughout adulthood (Barnett, 2008). Preschools are not only about cognitive learning, but they give a formal education to pre-kindergarten aged children on the developmental concepts of interaction with their peers. These lessons stay with the children through the remainder of their life. Without those lessons, many do not develop the social skills needed to succeed in our society. Preschool education is not only beneficial to the individuals who attend the programs, but it also benefits community and the local economy as a whole. Funds invested into preschool programs provide a significant return to the community.
The RAND Corporation, a non-profit organization which provides objective analysis through surveys and research (The RAND Corporation), recently performed a study which found that for every on dollar invested into quality preschool programs for underprivileged children, two dollars and sixty-two cents was returned into the labor force and economy (Loucks, Slaby, and Stelwagon, Fall 2005). That is a two hundred and sixty percent return on investment. The direct return on this investment alone is more than enough to warrant a universal program. This study does not even include other potential indirect financial returns. Other financial returns from a public preschool investment would also be present in the lowering of state Medicaid costs, law enforcements costs, and other low-income assistance costs, such as food vouchers, homeless shelters and unemployment pay, which cost the government and tax payers a significant amount of money every year. Preschool is a necessary business investment for our economy to yield a higher return rate, than the current K-12 requirements today.
The concept of a universal preschool program is not unheard of, not even in the United States. Most state government funded preschool programs are targeted toward children of lower income households. These programs have been put into place in a collaborative effort to close the educational achievement gap that exists in our society. However, some states, and even entire countries have already begun governmentally funding preschool programs, not just for underprivileged children whose families cannot afford the tuition, but for all pre-kindergarten aged children. In 1998, Oklahoma legislation ruled to make all four year olds eligible for a universal quality pre-kindergarten program (Sacks and Brown Ruzzi, 2005). Of course, a program as significant as this would not go without continued research and analysis. In a study performed between 2002 and 2003, significant supporting evidence was found which indicated that the program was a success. The study showed increased academic test scores in the subjects of reading, spelling, writing and mathematics skills (Gormley, Gayer, Phillips and Dawson).
Oklahoma is not the only state to equalize education for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status. With the revenues from a state lottery, and the leadership of, then governor, Zell Miller, Georgia was the first state in the United States to offer a publically funded preschool program (Early Education for All, 2005). Similar to the findings in the study of Oklahoma’s program, Georgia’s program was also proven to be successful. A study found that more than eight percent of students who had attended the program ranked average or above upon evaluation third-grade readiness (Sacks and Brown Ruzzi, 2005). A universal preschool program is not just a theory waiting to be tested, it is already in effect in some areas, and is proving its value in this country’s educational achievement.
If we do not put into place the appropriate interventions in the society, the educational achievement gap will only widen, costing more and more tax dollars, and most importantly, costing children the equal opportunity of prosperity in this country. This gap can be diminished significantly by providing each and every child in this country with the equal educational opportunity of a quality preschool program. Such a program provides this nation’s youngsters with the skills they need in order to meet the countries educational standards throughout the span of their education.
It is unfortunate that in this land of opportunity and prosperity, that in order to grown and succeed; our children are subject to exclusion of such a beneficial educational tool, because of his or her parents’ inability to afford tuition costs. With our current economic status, our children, the future of this nation, must be provided every advantage possible in order to change this economy around. An investment should be made in our future today by providing a constitutional right to a quality and inclusive preschool program to all children.
Loucks, Sharon, Slaby, Robert, and Stelwagon, Patricia. “Why is preschool
essential in closing the achievement gap?” Educational Leadership and Administration Fall 2005: 47+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. Document URL: http://go.galegroup.com.ezp1r.riosalado.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA142874683&v=2.1&u=mccweb_riosalado&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w Strategies for Children. “Early Childhood Education: A Strategy for closing the Acheivement Gap”. Spring 2005. Web. 06 Oct. 2012. Document URL: http://www.strategiesforchildren.org/eea/6research_summaries/07_AchievementGap.pdf Marcon, Rebecca A. “Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success.” Early Childhood Research and Practice 4.1 (2002). 06 October 2012. Document URL: . Gormley, William T., Jr., Gayer, Ted, Phillips, Deborah and Dawson, Brittany. ” The Effects of Universal Pre-K on Cognitive Development.” National Institute for Early Education Research. 06 October 2012. Document URL: http://www.crocus.georgetown.edu/reports/oklahoma9z.pdf Barnett, W. S. (2008). Preschool education and its lasting effects: Research and policy implications. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 10/06/2012 from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/preschooleducation
Sacks, Lynne and Brown Ruzzi, Betsy (2005). Early Childhood Education: Lessons from the States and Abroad: 2005. National Center on Education and the Economy. The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Retrieved 1027/2012. Document URL: http://www.ncee.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Early-Childhood-Education.pdf Lacour, Misty and Tissington, Laura D. (2011). The effects of poverty on academic achievement.. Retrieved 11/03/2012. Document URL: http://www.academicjournals.org/err/pdf/pdf%202011/july/lacour%20and%20tissington.pdf The RAND Corporation. (n.d.). RAND Corporation: Obective Analysis. Effective Solutions. Retrieved November 03, 2012, from The RAND Corperation: http://www.rand.org/
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