Friday, December 4, 2009

The Importance of Early Educational Programs: A call for action

Research by Christina and Nicholson-Goodman (2005) indicates that high-quality early education programs can produce substantial long-term benefits for children, families, and society. Armed with this knowledge, many states began mounting ambitious efforts to implement high-quality pre-kindergarten programs at universal scale. A Rand Research Brief describes some of the progress states have made and identifies significant policy and practice issues.
The first few years of life are critical for a child's cognitive development and learning. Barnett's (1998) evaluations of well-run prekindergarten programs found that children exposed to high-quality early education were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, or need special education, compared with similar children who did not have such exposure. Despite good research linking effective pre-K programs with later academic success, Shore (2002) still found early care and education in the United States was essentially a nonsystem consisting of a "patchwork of programs". After publication of the Rand Education Report (2005) most states began to embrace the value of high-quality early education programs. By 2007, as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, Barack Obama was expressing his plans to make universal Pre-K programs a national priority. Then came a global recession and a national depression...
Recently, after our country's traditional day of giving thanks, New York's Governor Paterson told reporters: "Twenty-six states shut down their early childhood education and prekindergarten programs, and that's what we're going to have to do..."
Although the economy is now rebounding, states throughout the country will be experiencing tremendous budgetary woes due to the lingering impact of the recent economic depression. New York State, like all states, needs to be fiscally responsible to balance its budget. Yet, cutting early educational programs should not be seen as a first-line solution, especially since such measures would have an adverse ripple-effect! You are encouraged to send a message to the NYS Governor Paterson that these cuts are not the answer!

If you believe this is a crucial issue, I encourage you to review, edit, and send the sample letter below to your state governor and its elected representatives:

Although many states are deciding to cut funding for Pre-K and other early care and learning programs, I encourage you to avoid similar considerations. Cutting educational services to young children should not be one of the earliest options when governments are faced with budget deficits. Pre-K and other early intervening programs have significant short and long-term benefits that will help children succeed in school and in life. Taking that opportunity away from four-year-old children clearly should not be seen as an effective way to balance any budget. For more than a decade, individual state's have been building effective Pre-K programs that yield better, more prepared students. To cut funding now would be a three-fold disservice to the state by:
1. adversely impacting the beginning education of its children;
2. negating years of hard work to build a quality Pre-K system; and
3. leaving scores of tax-paying pre-K teachers unemployed across the state.
Especially during this time of fiscal crisis we must strengthen the educational foundation for our children, so that they don't fall behind. Please review the Christina and Nicholson-Goodman (2005) research on the value of early education and then continue supporting pre-K and other early care and learning programs.
Thank you.

Too often our elected officials make short-term decisions that don't result in long-term solutions. As educators, we need to be advocates for the currently unheard voices of our youngest students. Absence of action to advocate on behalf of your future students may easily result in millions of these students twenty years from now hopelessly asking, "why didn't you do something to help?" I encourage you to be proactive so that day may not come.
Be well!