One of the most alarming details contained in The Courier-Journal’s recent front-page story about how two-thirds of children in Jefferson County start school unprepared to learn was this small tale from the front that is Portland Elementary School, where only 6.5 percent of its students are ready for kindergarten when they start it:
“Principal Angela Hosch said many of her students come from disadvantaged homes where books, reading time, exposure to vocabulary and educational experiences are limited. ‘For some, we literally teach them how to hold a book and turn the pages,’ Hosch said.”
If a book is literally a difficult thing for some of the children to grasp, the idea that a child in our community doesn’t even know how to hold a book should be both a shocking wake-up call and an unacceptable reality to the rest of us. It should be the galvanizing image that motivates a community to act on behalf of children who need more than home, parent and even school to succeed in life, and we should have their backs so they at least have a chance at that success. We’re not only helping the kids when we do that, we are helping ourselves.
Right now, the statistics bear out a need for that help: “Just 34.6 percent of incoming kindergartners were armed with the basic knowledge they needed to begin classes without extra help,” Chris Kenning reported, “such as knowing shapes, letters, numbers and telling right from left.” White, non-Hispanic and Asian students were the most prepared; African American, low-income and Hispanic students were the least prepared.
No one should be prepared to accept this uneven playing field because the costs to the children, who grow into adults, and the community in which they live, are too high.
Besides, numerous studies show that early childhood education pays off for kids, communities and taxpayers. Some examples:
• The HighScope Perry Preschool Study followed 123 disadvantaged children, considered in danger of failing school, through age 40. One group had a high-quality preschool program; the other group had no preschool program. From the study’s results: “Adults at age 40 who had the preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.”
• According to USA Today, a National Institutes of Health study following 100,000 low-income families since 1967 shows a $4 to $11 return on each dollar spent on a federally funded preschool program. Why? “... because children finished high school or college, earning more than their peers, and also because participants were less likely to be held back, arrested, depressed, involved with drugs or sick, the study says.”
President Obama has spoken of funding more preschool efforts and Kentucky offers state-funded preschool to low-income children and children with disabilities. But budget woes are squeezing what’s available even as the need for preschool continues to press educators, school systems and communities trying to build their leaders and workforces of tomorrow.
Some groups, such as Metro United Way, are trying to answer the call for preschool preparedness (see the op-ed letter by Joe Tolan on Page A7), but more must be done.
How can the community pull together so that every child can enter school — regardless of income or ethnicity — ready to learn in the years that their brains are ready for it and their hopes and imaginations haven’t been dimmed by failure?
How can we ensure that no child will struggle with how to hold a book, or how to sing a simple song, or how to read and write their own name, or any of the other number of tasks that represent readiness and preparedness to learn?
Some ideas from “Possibility City” on how to get our kids ready for kindergarten?
We know what works. How do we get there from here?
Source: The Courier-Journal - http://goo.gl/a5REN