By Mary-Margaret Mara
A few days after the election Joshua, one of my four-year-old students, told me he hated Donald Trump. Joshua sounded both angry and afraid. As a liberal democrat, I understand that fear all too well. My response to Joshua was, “Hate is a very strong word. I understand that you’re afraid of what this means to you and your family. Mr. Trump’s victory represents that changes are inevitable. Sometimes we need to see what changes are going to take place and remember that we, as Americans, have a voice in those changes.”
The following day we read a story entitled, “The Monster Who Lost His Mean” by Tiffany Strelitz Haber. As a class, we discussed the Onster’s struggle when he loses his M; after being teased, he finally realizes that he does have choices as an Onster. That lead us to a thoughtful conversation about how change and choices tend to go hand in hand. As we face new changes, it is important for us to look at what choices there are.
President-elect Donald Trump has stated that he will make K-12 school choice vouchers available to families once in office. His selection of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, demonstrates his desire to make this happen. What choices will there be for early education and preschool? Some of that $20 billion for school choice vouchers should be used to increase publicly-funded preschool options throughout the United States. If we want to see great changes in our nation then let’s begin by investing early in our children’s future. And what better place to start than with preschool.
Nearly 60 percent of four-year-old children in the U.S. are not enrolled in publicly-funded preschool. At the same time, private preschool is a luxury many Americans are not able to afford. Offering more publicly-funded preschool could provide families with choices and help narrow the achievement gap for children most in need.
How can preschool make a difference?
Research has shown that from birth to age five a child’s brain develops more than during any other period in life. Providing rich, hands-on learning experiences to help build knowledge is a crucial part of developing successful students. Offering options for publicly-funded preschool and educating our nation on the importance of preschool for all four-year-old children is where we need to begin to make this happen.
There are many benefits to offering publicly-funded preschool programs to families in need. By investing in our youngest students, we could help to level the playing field for kindergarten readiness. In their 2007 report, “The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children,” economists James Heckman and Dimitri Masertov contend that for every $1 invested in high-quality preschool, taxpayers save an average of $7 in future costs due to reductions in remedial education costs, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime. Think of the positive impact that could have on our children’s future and the economy they will face as adults.
Education in the early years is crucial to success later in school. By third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than students who are proficient. This is a staggering statistic and a clear sign that offering more publicly-funded preschool programs is a key part of addressing this issue.
How can we make full-day publicly-funded preschool a reality?
Making publicly-funded full-day preschool possible for all four-year-old children has been a priority for President Obama and his administration. In 2014, The White House held The Early Childhood Summit announcing funds to be donated by private and philanthropic organizations, along with federal grants. The Every Students Succeeds Act includes a $250 million Preschool Development Grant Program. The combined funds are being used to help offer more publicly-funded preschool options in 34 states. This is a very good beginning, but we need to do more.
Educating our youngest students is one of our biggest responsibilities. Choosing to ignore this need will result in long-lasting impact on our children and on our economy. America ranks 28th out of 38 countries for four-year-old children enrolled in early education. High-quality preschool is the way to influence the success of all students across our nation. To become number one, we must prioritize publicly-funded preschool. President-elect Trump, being a businessman, must see that investing in early education today makes economic sense for America’s future.
Mary-Margaret Mara is a preschool teacher in an inclusion classroom at Chandler Magnet School in Worcester, MA. She was a 2014 Worcester Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Finalist. Mary-Margaret is a Teach Plus Commonwealth Teaching Policy Fellow.