When a little girl, who I’ll call Tina, arrived in a pre-kindergarten program in Washington, D.C. she was unable to recognize any sounds or letters. By the time she left for kindergarten she knew all her letters and more sounds than D.C.’s standards require. Now, six years later, Tina’s teachers say she’s “on a roll” in school.
There are plenty of legitimate debates about what works in education, but the importance of early-childhood education is not one of them. High-quality early-childhood programs help kids in school and in life. Why? Research shows that good programs can improve a variety of outcomes and University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman points out that dollars invested early are higher leverage than later remediation. But it’s also common sense. Tina’s teachers say that until she learned behavioral and participatory skills she was simply unable to engage with and benefit from instruction at school. It’s good for parents, too, because good programs teach them about how to be involved and advocate for their child’s education.
So why aren’t we ensuring that more students and families at-risk of school failure get this sort of support?