When you hear that Arizona ranks in last place, or close to the bottom on so many measures of education, child wellbeing, or childhood poverty, how do you feel? Are you angry, frustrated, or perhaps resigned and jaded?
There is a proven cost effective way to do something to reverse that trend – high quality preschool. The best way to improve education is by making sure all children enter Kindergarten ready to learn and succeed! Assuring that children know how to read by the time they are in third grade is better done by investing in early literacy programs before age five, as opposed to the remediation programs offered in elementary school.
It is time for us to create more opportunity and hope for children and families, and the most cost effective and impactful time to do so is during a child’s first five years. If we really invested in the first 2,000 days of life – roughly birth to age five -- we could create a future where all children enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed...
Tragically, children who are already behind at the start of kindergarten are far more likely be high school dropouts, receive welfare as an adult, get arrested, get divorced, and develop problems with drugs or alcohol!
One key to leveling the playing field is providing preschool for children at risk. Imagine a future where all young children, especially those living in poverty, have a chance to attend a high quality preschool. Today just one in five Pima County toddlers does so. The sooner our society realizes that public investment in education and school needs to begin long before kindergarten, the sooner we will catch up with the many countries of the world with education outcomes and success vastly better than ours. America continues to promote this antiquated notion that school should begin at age five. Compare us to the many European and Asian countries whose average high school test scores are significantly better than ours. They invest in the first five years of life, and support early childhood education!
We need to invest in early intervention strategies so that all children have an opportunity to thrive and succeed, and thus reduce poverty in the next generation. One of the best ways to improve outcomes in our public schools is by doing things differently in the early years, before a child actually begins kindergarten. First assure high quality preschool and childcare, and second, provide parents of high risk infants and toddlers the skills, knowledge and hope they need to be more effective and successful. Savings from avoiding the high costs of school dropout, prison, welfare and mental health/drug abuse more than pays for early childhood investment.