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Changing American Education Through Equality in Early Childhood Opportunities

Tara M.

After the close of an election filled with the discourse of change, it is time to focus on implementing the changes America requires in order to continue to be an international leader and to strengthen its country and economy. One of the most pressing issues in America today is an educational system that is not serving all students well. It is important that the achievement gap be addressed. One way to approach this issue is to ensure early literacy acquisition for all students. This can be achieved through increasing school readiness by way of providing public early childhood education (ECE) programs. ECE programs seem to be effective in helping students who carry risk factors such as low socio-economic status (SES), linguistic diversity and ethnic minority achieve positive long-term educational outcomes (Bernhard, 2006; Barnett, et al., 2006; Belfield, Nores, Barnett & Schweinhart, 2006; Colorado Department of Education, 2003; Downer, 2006). American schools are not serving students of diverse and at-risk backgrounds as well as their middle-class, English-speaking counterparts. Sending all children to preschool would help remedy this inequity.

Students who are literate by the third grade have a dramatically higher rate of success in life than that of their peers who do not reach grade-level literacy by third grade (National Institute for Literacy, 2008). If students do not acquire grade-level literacy early in their school careers, they are at higher risk to dropout of school before graduation or go to jail in their lifetime (Belfield et al., 2006; DelliCarpini, 2006).

Children who are of low socio-economic status have 13 million fewer educational language experiences than their middle-class peers by the time they reach age four (Hart & Risley, 1995). Granting more language and literacy experiences by starting school earlier in life is a viable solution to this complex problem. Providing early childhood education for all students will enhance school readiness (LaParo & Pianta, 2000; Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta, 2000) and help students who come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to achieve literacy skills early in their careers (Molfese, Modglin & Molfese, 2003).

Research not only indicates that students who are not on grade level have lower success rates in school and life, but also demonstrates that students who speak another language and have little support at home can take anywhere from four to seven years to acquire grade-level proficiency in academic English (Cummins, 1979, 1999). It is imperative that the American education system increase the rapidity of oral language and literacy acquisition for English language learners so that they encounter grade-level success by third grade.

Positive externality, or creating a benefit to society as a third-party, is also achieved by investing in students early. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program Cost Benefit Analysis (2006) study indicated that for every dollar spent on a preschool program for at-risk students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, twelve tax-payer dollars were spent on their counterparts (who did not receive an early childhood education experience) later in life. Costs were incurred by the control group (that did not receive ECE) in the forms of kindergarten through twelfth grade remediation and special education programs as well as legal fees, jail expenses and welfare costs in adulthood (Belfield et al., 2006).

By providing all students with early childhood experiences, America will set its children up for success by increasing school readiness prior to kindergarten entrance, closing the achievement gap and by helping all students to attain grade level literacy by third grade. In turn, ensuring students’ early academic success will save money in the long-run by way of decreased need for remedial services in K-12 education and decreased need for welfare, jail and legal services amongst adults while creating citizens ready to ensure America continues to lead the world in the 21st century.

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