President Obama in the State of the Union 2013 recognized the need to revamp early childhood education across the nation to meet the demands of the 21st century. According to the New York Times, February 14, 2013 article, only three states have universal state financed 4-year-olds preschool programs. A majority of states have some form of state assisted preschool programs and eleven states have no state approved preschool programs.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, NIEER only 28 percent of all U.S. 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-school programs in school year 2010-2011. In a 2011 study conducted by NIEER, The State of Preschools state budget cuts in 2011 and 2012 have negatively impacted early childhood education in 26 of 39 states with preschool programs. NIEER predicts that even while enrollment and need is increasing more funding cuts are likely unless federal, state and local sources prioritize the benefits of school readiness and education.
What Are the Benchmarks for a Quality Pre-K Program
As President Obama stated in Decatur, Georgia on February 14, 2013, “This isn’t baby-sitting,” as reported by CNN. Children enrolled in a quality preschool program are ready for the rigors involved in attending all day kindergarten and gain confidence which carries with them throughout their academic and work life.
NIEER sets forth the minimum benchmarks of a quality state-run preschool program. In pertinent part, the program must be primarily designed for average students, oversight conducted by the state, degreed or credentialed teachers, small class size and a minimum 2-day comprehensive pre-school curriculum. Head Start programs would qualify if the state assumes authority and expands the pre-K programs to include more children and a comprehensive program
According to Bloomberg News, the expansion of the pre-school program to all 4-year-olds will cost billions of dollars. However, the President’s plan would involve sharing costs between the federal and state government. Specifically, the federal government would provide funds to low income and moderate income families up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Thus, a more level playing field would be established at the beginning of a child’s early childhood development, according to a White House spokesperson. Under the proposed expansion of preschool programs the state and federal departments of education would be the lead agencies for certification and regulation. In some states social or human services agencies oversee preschool programs.
Harvard University conducted a study in 2011 entitled, Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete. The study evaluated and compared student scores relating to mathematics and reading proficiency from 65 countries utilizing The Program for International Student Assessment known as the PISA exam. The United States ranks overall at the 32 percentile in proficiency in mathematics and about the same in reading proficiency. According to the authors of the study, the graduating class of 2011 in the U.S. overall performed at the level of Italy, Latvia, Poland and Spain. Twenty-two countries performed significantly better and eight countries about the same as the United States.
Charles Vest, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated, “America faces many challenges…but the enemy I fear most is complacency.” Innovation in education must keep pace with changing times and circumstances. An investment in early childhood education for all children sets the stage for creating the next generation of innovators.