Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Courtesy of Roanoke City Public Schools Kamryn McGeorge and Zamya Witherspoon, both 4 years old, pretend to give a baby a check-up while attending a Virginia Preschool Initiative class at Fairview Elementary. Role playing helps young children make sense of experiences and people in their everyday lives.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Virginia is a strong and diverse state with bountiful natural resources and immense human capital. This has led to a strong economy with national leadership in many sectors, including technology, health care, agriculture, hospitality, consumer services and research. Each of these economic sectors, and others, needs an educated, creative and competitive workforce. Two important contributors to Virginia’s future quality of life are excellent health and outstanding education. Desirable and sophisticated businesses increasingly locate only where the overall quality of life is considered outstanding.
Thus, the totality of the state’s population and the distinctive profiles of local communities are of paramount importance to all Virginians. Virginia has a long history of outstanding higher education and some of the best K-12 public education systems in the country. Yet the profile is uneven across the state. Now is the time to capitalize on past accomplishments and strengthen educational innovation and accomplishment.
One proven way to strengthen our educational system is to improve the quality and stability of pre-K education for all children. The good news is that we know a great deal about how to do this. Early childhood education is about the total child and the family. We need to combine health promotion activities (lots of physical activity, good nutrition, limited engagement with TV and passive games) and effective preventive health care with strong early childhood education.
Advantaged parents already know and act upon this knowledge because they have the resources to do so. Alarmingly, approximately 24 percent of Virginia’s economically disadvantaged children failed to meet third-grade Standards of Learning in reading in the 2011-12 school year — a critical shortcoming foretelling future poor performance. This failure rate contributes directly to the $5 billion to $9.9 billion the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates that childhood poverty costs the state of Virginia each year.
Virginia’s birth rate is approximately 100,000 children per year, with only 15 percent born into poverty. This percentage places Virginia in the advantaged league of states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey — the very states competing head-on with Virginia businesses. These states invest heavily in K-12 and higher education to attract and retain skilled families.
Offering high-quality pre-K is the single best “add-on” to ensure that each community will produce highly skilled, socially engaged workers and citizens. Without doubt, children from economically disadvantaged families will benefit the most. Yet strong pre-K confers measurable benefits to entire communities and parents as well. This is a case in which moral compassion and state pride in excellence go hand-in-hand with scientific evidence about improving lifelong educational outcomes.
So what are the characteristics of high-quality pre-K programs? Based on a review of a very large body of scientific research, high-quality programs include four major characteristics:
1. Safe and healthy environments.
2. Informative, positive interactions with well-prepared teachers and adults.
3. An abundance of language and learning activities.
4. Strong communication and interactions between teachers and parents.
When these conditions are met, all children, and especially disadvantaged children, thrive. Replicated research shows that these conditions promote success for disadvantaged children when they enter strong K-12 public education systems.
High-quality pre-K means these children are far less likely to be retained in grade or placed in special education, and more likely to do well in key subjects such as reading and math. They are also more likely to earn passing scores on statewide standardized assessments all the way through high school and are more likely to go to college and graduate with a four-year degree.
High-quality pre-K also produces parental benefits: low-income parents are more likely to continue their own education and become employed at higher-skill, higher-earning jobs. Thus, a two-generation benefit is obtained by providing a good pre-K experience for disadvantaged children.
Leading economists have summarized the data from gold-standard pre-K research and conclude that high-quality pre-K programs show cost-benefit ratios in the 1:3 to 1:7 range. That is, for every dollar invested, there is a societal return of $3 to $7 on these investments. Stated another way, the evidence is clear that these programs more than pay for themselves in terms of direct benefits to participants and to states through reduced welfare costs, mental health needs and juvenile delinquency, along with increased labor force participation.
Virginia stands to benefit by expanding access to high-quality pre-K programs for all children who need it. This can be done in broad, inclusive programs. A recent Mason-Dixon poll revealed that 79 percent of young families in Virginia hold a positive attitude toward public pre-K, making these politically popular and endorsed by a broad cross-section of the population.
Based on our understanding of the diversity of Virginia’s population, we call for an analysis at the local education system level to examine expected benefits across the state of Virginia. These estimates then should be coupled with a systematic inventory of all existing federal, state and local resources. This will produce an actionable agenda with specific data about projected costs, designed to build on the large investments already in place and strategically identifying the gaps in pre-K availability and quality.
With modest and strategic investments, Virginia could rapidly become a leading pre-K state. This is called for because it will ensure a stronger, more competitive and compassionate state. We believe this is a family-friendly (and apolitical) agenda that is morally right, scientifically defensible, cost-beneficial, popular, compatible with workforce enhancement and supportive of Virginia’s commitment to excellence in K-12 and higher education.
Weather JournalNew batch of moisture for PM