Too many children will enter school this Fall already behind. And, once behind, few catch up. Studies have shown that by third grade those children who started behind have vocabularies that are only 1/3 of their counterparts and they also have significant gaps in math and reading that continues with them throughout high school.
For children growing up in the United States, early childhood care and education have become an increasingly common experience. On average, preschool care develops young children's early academic skills through enriching activities and sometimes direct instruction*. Yet the type and quality of the care that children receive varies widely and so these school readiness gaps can even be seen across children who have attended some form of early childhood education.
Research indicates that preschoolers who attend high quality early childhood programs:
- Enter kindergarten with skills necessary for school success.
- Show greater understanding of verbal and numerical concepts.
- Are more socially competent.
- Show ability to stay with an activity longer.
- Are more likely to make typical progress through the primary grades.
- Are less often placed in special education classes.
- Are less likely to be retained in kindergarten.
Early childhood education reform is critical to the success of the kindergarten through 12th grade educational system, and is the surest way to guarantee academic success for our children.
Our vision for early childhood and school readiness is for early childhood programs to offer high quality, comprehensive and culturally appropriate services and support to both the child and the whole family.
The solution to building more high-quality early childhood education programs is for states and the federal government to invest in new high-quality early childhood education and for states and municipalities to better define quality early education and set standards. Our nation needs to better fund quality birth-to-5 programs and build an infrastructure to support early learning. Otherwise we will always be playing catch-up and we will struggle to fix the learning deficits of kids who arrive at kindergarten unprepared to succeed.
*Katherine A. Magnuson and Jane Waldfogel, "Early Childhood Care and Education: Effects on Ethnic and Racial Gaps in School Readiness," The Future of Children, 15 (2005): 169-196