In a recent post, Added Value from Effective #pre-K programs, Reform Requires Courage, I made the case for investing in universal pre-K programs, especially for students from underserved families. The research is quite strong that investment in high-quality pre-K programs pays dividends for children in their later years. A reality is that most state governments, as well as the federal government, are struggling getting their arms around this reality. While some states understand the value of the investment, others ignore the research. Even those that value investment in pre-K programs for underserved students struggle funding them in sustainable ways.
Numerous studies have confirmed that children from poor families like Jasmine’s are already at a significant social and academic deficit by the time they reach their third birthdays. That makes a solid case for birth-to-3 programs for these youngsters, who have a very steep slope to climb to start kindergarten on par with their middle-class peers, even if they attend prekindergarten at age 4.
Once such study, Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment, was completed in 2005 by the MIT Workplace Center. The authors, Leslie J. Calman and Linda Tarr-Whelan, write:
Investments in quality child care and early childhood education do more than pay significant returns to children—our future citizens. They also benefit taxpayers and enhance economic vitality. Economic research—by Nobel Prize-winners and Federal Reserve economists, in economic studies in dozens of states and counties, and in longitudinal studies spanning 40 years—demonstrate that the return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial.
We could dig a lot deeper into the research, continuing to make the case for this investment, but it won’t do any good unless our political leaders face the reality that investing in educating young children is better than investing hundreds of billions of dollars into more and more sophisticated military hardware. We can’t keep ignoring our responsibilities to educate ALL children and expect our society to evolve in a positive direction. We have to help ALL children, not just those from families that have resources, develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work on addressing complex problems facing our global society. In addition, ALL children need the opportunity to develop and share their cognitive and creative talents in our society.
Let’s invest now and not be faced with what Schippers suggest might be too little too late. Every day we wait, more and more children are being left unprepared for school and unprepared for becoming a productive member of society.