Quality pre-K critical to lives of our children

Posted 5/13/17

To The Editor:

Last weekend, Lee University’s seniors tossed their mortarboards in the air as the school sent another graduating class into the workforce. Freshly minted graduates at the …

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Quality pre-K critical to lives of our children

Posted

To The Editor:

Last weekend, Lee University’s seniors tossed their mortarboards in the air as the school sent another graduating class into the workforce. Freshly minted graduates at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga did the same.

In fact, that meaningful ritual has played out at schools across the state this spring, as it does every year. But the steps that got those students to that ceremony didn’t begin the day they first set foot on campus. And they didn’t begin learning the valuable skills they’ll carry with them into their careers fall semester of freshman year.

No, that journey started much earlier, when their young minds were first developing. Decades of research have taught us that the seeds of success are sown in the first few years of life. High-quality pre-kindergarten can be a catalyst for intellectual growth and educational preparedness that paves the way for graduation day.

While I’m grateful that I live in a community and a state with four- and two-year institutions that produce quality workers, I know we can do more.

My role as senior account manager at PlayCore gives me particular insight into this issue — and a vested interest in it. I’ve been in the early childcare industry for over 24 years. I’ve seen first-hand the unique learning opportunity presented in the earliest years. One of the reasons why I’m so committed to early childhood is that I know we face educational and workforce challenges that imperil the future of our local, state and national economies.

The beauty of quality pre-K is that it simultaneously addresses those interrelated educational and workforce issues, albeit years apart.

First, education: A peer-reviewed analysis of 123 studies highlighted by the business-leader group ReadyNation reveals a broad theme that high-quality pre-K has a measurable and positive impact on getting kids “kindergarten-ready.” In particular, quality early childhood programs boost critical early math and literacy skills, which provide the foundation for better educational outcomes, especially for at-risk children. In fact, almost 90 percent of students living in poverty will go on to graduate from high school on time if they’re reading on-level by the third grade.

Secondly, there’s the connection between quality pre-K and workforce development. Armed with these enhanced skills, students have a better shot at attaining the academic preparation that creates the foundation for college and career success. For example, studies show that quality pre-K can lead to higher earnings as adults. Those higher earnings, along with other outcomes created by quality pre-K, such as reduced crime rates and less money spent on special education, yield up to $29,000 in net, long-term benefits for each child served.

But there’s that word I keep revisiting: “Quality.” It’s the difference between pre-K programs that get good results and ones that get few results — or results that fade out over time.

What do I mean by “quality?” There are many elements that contribute to a program being of high educational quality, including everything from the qualifications and preparation of teachers to instruction types and curriculum coordination between pre-K and elementary schools.

That last point is key: Even if pre-K programs get kids kindergarten ready, it is essential that kindergarten, first grade and second grade continue to build on the strong foundation provided by quality pre-K.

Here in Tennessee, we’ve begun taking steps to make sure that our programs are on the right track. We’ve started to analyze which programs and instructional practices work best to serve our kids. Our Legislature has required that local districts implement best practices, improve “institutional alignment” between pre-K and K-3, and offer meaningful professional development for teachers.

But these initial steps are just that — a beginning. Here in Tennessee, we have to continue investing in creating the most effective pre-K we can, so that our children are prepared to thrive and succeed in school, K-12 and beyond.

From both business and societal perspectives, I can’t think of a better safeguard for the future prosperity of Tennessee. We must make good on our commitment to Tennessee’s youngest learners.

— Kevin Winkelman

Franklin

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