Monfredo: Addressing the Achievement Gap Starts in the Early Years

John Monfredo, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER

Publication Date: 
January 31, 2017

John Monfredo, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

"If you're going to equalize the academic playing field, you've got to get the kids in early childhood programs."

- Paul Vallas, author

In the education community, “closing” achievement gaps is widely considered to be one of the major challenges facing the American public-education system. The gap refers to the academic achievement between students whose families are of low income and those of students from middle and upper income families.

It is also tends to be one of the top priorities identified by educators, policy makers, elected officials, and others working to improve the education system and individual schools. However, despite the strong interest in education, the gap has continued to persist and only modest progress has taken place.

We, as a community, need to address the problem. One key to solving the problem is engaging parents in the educational process. The participation of parents is an essential component of education reform strategies. Students whose parents are involved in their education generally have higher grades and test scores, better attendance, higher graduation rates, and greater enrollment in postsecondary education. A parent is the child’s most important teacher and we need to assist our parents to help their child succeed.

I believe that we need to reach out to our parents with “at risk” young children at an early age and work with them to enroll their children in pre-school programs In Worcester we have good private non-profit and for profit centers that service our children as well as half day public school pre- programs and Head Start. What is needed is more of a collaborative approach with both public and private providers. We have started moving in that direction but more needs to be done. We should have a full day pre-school program in all of our level 3 schools and that’s an issue that we need to continue to advocate with our state legislators.

Another issue in the Worcester Public Schools that needs attention is the enrollment of age four children in the kindergarten. Some of the children are readiness ready but many are immature and not socially or emotionally ready. In Worcester, unlike most districts, children can start the year off at age four for the age cut off is December 31st. Most districts the cut off is August 31st. Why not, after screening our four year olds, consider a Kindergarten 1 classroom for those children? Many of those children can then be in a full day two year program in the kindergarten. They will have amble time to acquire readiness skills and mature. Thus, they will be starting off in grade one with the necessary skills to be successful and not be frustrated at an early age. It’s something for administration to consider as we look for solutions in dealing with the achievement gap.

Researchers estimate that as much as one-half to one-third of the white-black achievement gap already exists when children start school. Gaps between low-income or low-socioeconomic-status children and their peers are similarly large at this point. Many children enter school lacking key language, literacy, pre-math, and social-emotional skills. Research shows that these gaps begin to emerge as early as 9 months of age.

Gaps in school readiness are the result of disparities in children’s early-learning experiences, both at home and in child-care settings. By age 3, children from the most-disadvantaged families have heard 30 million fewer words than children of professional parents. Children from low-social economic status families are more likely to watch TV and less likely to be read to by their parents or caregivers, be taken to zoos or museums, and be exposed to other learning opportunities.

“The path to success does not begin at age 17. The earliest months and years of life are a crucial time when we build the foundation of children’s character, how they relate to others and how they learn. Long-term research show that quality early childhood education raises graduation rates by up to 44%. Research further shows that kids who fail to get it are 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18, making them potentially unfit for service and a threat to their communities. Furthermore, every dollar invested in quality early childhood programs can save $16.00.”… This statement was from the “Mission: Readiness” a nonprofit, bi-partisan organization led by senior retired military leaders … calling for smart investments in the next generation of American children.

In addition, research also shows that by the age of 3 there are significant gaps in language acquisition between children of low income parents and their peers with college educated parents. Without the intervention of early childhood education the gap continues to widen and is quite pronounced by the time the children enter school.

Research has been stating these facts for years about the achievement gap so why hasn’t more been done about it? Yes, it’s the money issue. However, that is being so short-sighted.

According to research, the economic and social benefits from prekindergarten investment amount to much more than just improvements in public balance sheets. Investing in young children has positive implications for the current generation of children, for future generations of children, and for earlier generations of children. The current generation of children will benefit from higher earnings, higher material standards of living, and an enhanced quality of life. Future generations will benefit because they will be less likely to grow up in families living in poverty. And earlier generations of children, who are now working or in retirement, will benefit by being supported by higher-earning workers who will be better able to financially sustain our public retirement benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

Early education is important for all children. 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.

In conclusion, please remember that every dollar invested in universally available quality early care and education saves taxpayers money. Thus, it is shortsighted not to invest sufficient resources in early care and education since the return on investment to taxpayers is greater than many current economic development programs. Let’s lobby our Federal and State officials for change!

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