Educate kids early

Published 8:43 am Wednesday, May 6, 2009

As Franklin explores short-term solutions to rising crime rates, community leaders must have the long-term vision required to keep the young children of today from becoming the criminals of tomorrow.

Supporting Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater, an early-childhood-education initiative launched a few years back, is just as important as putting more police officers on the street. If more police manpower is the answer to stopping the current crime wave, making sure children have a solid educational foundation will prevent future ones.

We were reminded of that fact when powerful commentary from Gregory Taylor of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation crossed our desk recently. We share it here with commendation.

All across America each year, children start kindergarten unprepared to learn. In some states, the vast majority of kindergartners aren’t ready for school. Many of them fall behind and never catch up.

We can change that.

The children are victims of failure and neglect by the very entities that should support them most: their families, schools and governments.

As the Obama administration, Congress and state policymakers work to revamp education, they need to target the youngest learners — those most often overlooked by traditional school systems. They must make sure that children are ready for school and, equally important, that schools are ready for them.

That simple formula is critical for a lifetime of successful learning. Without it, many children are destined to fall behind, require remediation, or drop out.

Yet, most of the focus among policymakers and school systems has been on older children, those who are failing and need help to stay in school and graduate.

That is too late.

The United States spends a lot of time and money on remediation, which often doesn’t work. But there is a lot we can do to prevent students from falling behind in the first place.

The evidence is powerful: Young children perform better, learn more and acquire skills that will carry them into adulthood when they move smoothly and seamlessly from home to child care to preschool to kindergarten. The current system, a hodgepodge of uncoordinated care and schooling doesn’t effectively take advantage of children’s key learning years, ages 3 to 8.

Parents and other caregivers, including child care providers and preschools, must make sure that children have the skills they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn. At the same time, elementary schools must be ready for children — not just for any children but for the specific kids who will fill their classrooms. Principals and teachers have to reach out to parents, caregivers and preschool teachers to find out everything they can about students long before the first day of school.

Children are falling away, casualties of the lack of coherence and consistency that pervades early child care and education across America. The need is staggering. For example, in Arizona, only 13 percent of students are prepared for kindergarten when they get there.

The U.S. needs a new model for educating its youngest children, one that prepares them for a lifetime of learning starting at birth and that pushes them not only to stay in school but to achieve.