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.
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)
» 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.
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.Email | Print