San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas


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EDITOR’S NOTE: In the run-up to the May 11 school bond election, the San Marcos Mercury has invited a cross-section of community members to weigh in on the proposed $77 million capital improvement program, $12.7 million of which would build a new pre-K campus on the site of the former Bowie Elementary School. Early voting starts April 29.

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by ELIZABETH MORGAN RUSSELL, SUE W. WILLIAMS and ELIZABETH BLUNK

A record 3.8 million children entered school as a kindergartner in 2011 but too many of these five-year-olds arrived at kindergarten unprepared to achieve the educational goals established set by their state and federal standard-setters.

Why Pre-K works (for everyone)

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» Research proves it. Research demonstrates that high-quality pre-k increases a child’s chances of succeeding in school and in life. Children who attend high-quality programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education, and more likely to graduate from high school. They also have higher earnings as adults and are less likely to become dependent on welfare or involved with law enforcement.

» Today’s Kindergarten is yesterday’s first grade. In many states, today’s kindergarten is yesterday’s first grade. With more “academics” being presented in kindergarten, children must learn the pre-academic foundations for formal reading before they enter kindergarten. In pre-k, children become familiar with books, new words and ways to use language, numbers, and problem-solving strategies. They also learn the social skills they need to get the most out of school — how to pay attention in class and interact with peers.

» Start behind, stay behind. Children who enter school behind their peers often stay behind. For example, children who do not recognize the letters of the alphabet when they enter kindergarten demonstrate significantly lower reading skills at the end of first grade. Eighty-eight percent of children who are poor readers in first grade will still be poor readers by fourth grade. Seventy-four percent of children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers when they start high school.

» Preparation. Nearly half of all kindergarten teachers report that their children have problems that hinder their success. For example, 46 percent of teachers feel that at least half of the children in their classes have difficulty following directions, 36 percent feel that half the children have problems with academic skills, and 34 percent find that more than half of their children have difficulty working independently. Children unprepared for kindergarten tax the resources of the entire system.

» It’s benefits all kids. Classrooms where all children are prepared have higher learning productivity and classroom efficiency. More able children perform more capably in the classroom and enhance the learning of other children. Teachers spend more time working directly with children and less on classroom management.

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

In a large national study, 30 percent of kindergarten teachers estimated that one-half of the children in their classes did not meet the teachers’ expectations for kindergarten readiness.

Nationwide, states have reported that 20 percent to 50 percent of young children arrived at school “unprepared to learn”. Kindergarten readiness — what children know and can do when they enter kindergarten — is crucial to children’s academic success. Children who are ready for school are more likely to experience academic success from kindergarten through high school and they are less likely to have school adjustment problems, become delinquent or drop out of high school.

Costs associated with a lack of school readiness, according to Jerome Bruner, an award winning economist, include child education costs (e.g., special education, grade retention, school drop out), child human service costs (e.g., juvenile delinquency, mental health care), and adulthood costs (e.g., adolescent parenting, welfare dependency, lost economic activity, and costs of incarceration). These social costs exceed $260 billion annually.

Conversely, investments in comprehensive early education and family involvement programs can greatly reduce these social costs because high quality, early education prepares children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Research has indicated that society benefits from investments in early education.

For example, every dollar invested in the Perry Preschool comprehensive, family-focused early care and education program yielded more than $16 in savings by the time the original participants were age 40 years. The savings accrued due to fewer contacts with the legal system, fewer demands on the welfare system, more tax-paying, employed adults, as well as a greater number of financially secure families, according to Lawrence J. Schweinhart and colleagues, creators of the Perry Preschool program.

James Heckman, a University of Chicago professor who won the Nobel prize in Economics in 2000, puts the return on investment at $7-$10 for each dollar invested in high quality early education programs. Heckman describes this as a return on investment in young children’s growth and development as opposed to later paying for their remediation.

High quality early education programs foster kindergarten readiness because opportunities are provided for young children to master the components of readiness in ways that fit and appropriately challenge young children’s competence in the areas of physical-motor, social-emotional, language and communication, and intellectual development. Additionally, methods that can be adapted to fit each child’s learning needs and style dominate the high quality, early education program curriculum.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, family involvement is an essential component of a high quality early care and education programs. As noted by Claudia Galindo and Steven B. Sheldon in 2011, “Decades of studies, reviews, and syntheses confirm this [positive family-teacher relationships help determine children’s school success] and have concluded that parents and family members are powerful influences on student achievement across grades”.

Pertinent to San Marcos CISD wherein 80 percent of students are Hispanic and 63 percent qualify for free or reduced cost meals, recent research has provided “conclusive evidence that minority and low-income parents are deeply interested [in] and connected to their children’s education” according to Maria Teresa de la Piedra, Judith Munter, and Hector Giron.

Contrary to myths that minority parents lack interest in their children’s education, Hispanic families want their children to succeed in school, and they also value early education opportunities for their young children. Researchers have found Hispanic families to possess comparatively higher educational expectations for their children, more positive perceptions of school outreach, and the highest levels of parental involvement in their child’s education when compared to other ethnic groups.

Locally, in an initiative between San Marcos ISD and the Family and Child Development Program of Texas State University, faculty are examining the impact of parental involvement, as well as the contribution of tutoring of young children in math and literacy by college students, as part of a study known as Caminitos.

The eventual “pay-off” for society’s investment in universal, high quality, family focused early education is huge in terms of both human and physical capital, according to the Brookings Institution.

The projected federal costs of universal preschool education by 2080 would be about $59 billion; however, “the impact of a high-quality, universal preschool policy on economic growth….could add $2 trillion to annual U.S. GDP by 2080.”

If this eventual pay-off were to be re-invested in education, this could benefit school districts nationwide, including SMCISD, in terms of enrolling greater numbers of children ready to succeed in school, purchasing state-of-the art curriculum materials, and increasing teacher pay and benefits to retain the best teachers.

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The writers are faculty in Texas State University’s School of Family & Consumer Sciences. Professor SUE WILLIAMS coordinates the school’s Family and Child Studies graduate program. ELIZABETH M. BLUNK, a family and child development associate professor, holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with emphasis in Early Childhood Education. ELIZABETH MORGAN RUSSELL is an assistant clinical professor and graduate advisor for family and children development.

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14 thoughts on “Commentary: San Marcos should invest in early education

  1. Considering that public schools are failing our children at every level from K to 12, I honestly fail to see what good starting the kids a year earlier will do. What’s next – have the baby and turn it over to government immediately for “early life education”?

    Forget government run Pre-K. How about make sure they learn what they need to learn in grades 1-12 instead?

  2. From the article: “30 percent of kindergarten teachers estimated that one-half of the children in their classes did not meet the teachers’ expectations for kindergarten readiness.”

    So 70% of teachers think that everything is OK, and of the 30% who don’t they only see problems with half of their kids. So that’s about 15% of kids overall who “lack kindergarten readiness” (whatever that means).

    So because 15% of our kids “lack kindergarten readiness”, we’re supposed to allow government to take over pre-K programs. Because government knows best, right? Please.

    Vote no to the propositions.

  3. Early education works. The above comments not withstanding, were I able to, I would enroll my child into Head Start. But alas, as poor as I am I have too much money to qualify for this quite remarkable program. So we have placed our child into a quality private school. It’s very expensive and we have placed our child’s education over cable, video rentals, adult beverages, going out and many other fun things to pay for it. But that is a choice we have made and can afford to make others are not so blessed as us.

  4. Craig,

    I invited Rob Roark to write but haven’t seen anything from him yet. I thought maybe trustee John Crowley could write one but that might put him in an awkward position since he actually voted for the bonds. (He was against it before he was for it before he was against it, I guess).

    Anyone who is interested in writing a guest column can email me at bradrollins@yahoo.com

  5. I don’t think it’s accurate to say “public schools are failing our children at every level from K to 12”. It may be more accurate to say many parents are failing their kids. Most kids get an adequate education in public schools and those that exploit the opportunity get a great education. San Marcos has a large population of parents who aren’t engaged, don’t have any books at home, don’t read to their kids and view the school system as a babysitter that cannot quit no matter how poorly you treat them. Denying it is useless so we might as well try to do the best we can with the kids we’ve got. San Marcos is not Eanes. It’s our unfortunate burden that these are the kids we have been given to educate. We can complain that we don’t have families panting eagerly at the schoolhouse door but we can’t abdicate our responsibility.

  6. Those parents are products of the same system. The cycle needs to be broken somewhere. I agree, we can’t just push this off on them, and wash our hands, whether we think they are blameless, partially to blame, or completely to blame.

  7. So what you are trying to tell me is one of these two conclusions?
    1. Headstart (early childhood education started 30 years ago) is not effective
    or
    2. San Marcos CISD currently does not have an effective Headstart (early childhood education program)

    The bond issue is for a new building for Early Childhood education NOT for an Early Childhood education program. Buildings don’t prepare children.

  8. Hi Mary,

    I work with the Early Childhood program, however, I don’t wish to be identified. Head Start has a limited number of spaces…only less than 100. We have around 550 children (total) that would be eligible for Pre-K in San Marcos.

    Head Start is a wonderful program…federal limits on how many children can be served.

    You are correct about the bond, it will provide the building and not the program. Qualified teachers would staff the program. Each teacher would have a Bachelors Degree, that would be an indicator of a quality
    early childhood program.

    Have a good night 🙂

  9. Crowley can vote to place something on the ballot and not fully support all of it. Like most of the voters I suspect.

  10. I wonder if these three professors live in San Marcos and send their kids to our schools, or are they simply lecturing us poor folk on what is best for us? As for the case they make, other research shows all benefits evaporate by the 3rd grade and I have not seen any evidence of an appreciable difference in graduation rates among participants. Further, most studies attribute higher early performance by kids with the resources to attend quality pre-k to the pre-k instead of the higher performance being caused by the same resource advantage.

    I would prefer the focus remain on doing a better job for the 13 years we have the kids for k through 12th. I think once the voters see improvement, they will line up to offer another year. That improvement will require us all understanding the families in our district and dealing with the challenges they face, not simply blaming them and considering our neighbors an “unfortunate burden.”

  11. So parents that do teach their children to read will get tax breaks? It sounds like we need parenting classes. And, job training and jobs for the parents. “Pertinent to San Marcos CISD wherein 80 percent of students are Hispanic and 63 percent qualify for free or reduced cost meals…” will also place an undue tax burden on these families. That’s my gas money y’all are trying to take with these boondoggles. To bad the district does not believe in open discussion prior to placing it as a ballot measure. These concerns stemming from the administrative work flow are deeply concerning to many residents. Was that a debate for and against the bond last night or simply a Q and A?

  12. The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Texas has an Early Learning Program for its youngest members at Texas Preparatory School and the Mitchell Center. Our members enjoy everything this program has to offer from the hours of 7:00 am to 6:30 pm during the academic year. The program reinforces the academic and school engagement of young people during the time they spend at the club. This strategy is based on research demonstrating that students do much better in school when they spend their non-school hours engaged in fun, but academically beneficial activities.

    We offer two convenient locations at:
    400 Uhland Road
    San Marcos, TX 78666

    715 Valley Street
    San Marcos, TX 78666

    Call 512-805-3000 for more information or email Pam Clay at pam.clay@bgcsct.org.

    Visit http://bgcsct.org/index.php/programs/afterschool/#3-tab for more information.

  13. The youngest members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Texas are enrolled in the Early Learning Program at either Texas Preparatory School or the Mitchell Center. Our members enjoy everything this program has to offer from the hours of 7:00 am to 6:30 pm during the academic year. The program reinforces the academic and school engagement of young people during the time they spend at the club. This strategy is based on research demonstrating that students do much better in school when they spend their non-school hours engaged in fun, but academically beneficial activities.

    For more information, visit http://bgcsct.org/index.php/programs/afterschool/#1-tab

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