Chris Martes, Strategies for Children’s president and CEO, has a new article out in the latest edition of CommonWealth Magazine.
In “A chance to lead on early education,” Martes writes that Massachusetts can be a national role model by building strong pre-K programs. This would prepare more children for lifelong success and set an example for other states.
“From the White House to business boardrooms to the offices of scores of Republican and Democratic mayors, governors, and members of Congress, we’re seeing historic momentum on expanding and improving preschool programs,” Martes writes.
“It is in this spirit of historic potential that we welcome Gov. Charlie Baker to the State House. He and his team have the opportunity to break new ground.”
Pre-K Helps Improve K-12
“The Commonwealth needs strong K-12 schools. But having served for nearly two decades as a school superintendent and as an interim superintendent in five Massachusetts communities, I can tell you that K-12 schools cannot reform education on their own,” Martes explains. “There’s too much work to do. Too many achievement gaps are already in place on the first day that children walk into kindergarten.
“That’s why we need high-quality early education and care programs that start from birth and prepare children to become proficient readers by the third grade.”
But as we’ve blogged many times before, reading scores have remained stagnant.
“The 2013 MCAS scores revealed that 43 percent of our third graders are not proficient readers. Among children from low-income families, a heart-breaking 65 percent lag in reading. In our Gateway Cities — including Attleboro, Pittsfield, Salem, Taunton, and Westfield — 58 percent of third graders are not proficient readers. In Boston, it’s 68 percent.”
Research Points to Promising Practices
The good news is that researchers are studying outcomes and coming up with best practices.
“Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux argues that what she calls high-quality ‘teacher talk,’ the number of complex words that teachers use, helps promote children’s reading success.”
“For Arthur Reynolds, a University of Minnesota early childhood development professor, the question is no longer whether preschool is valuable, but rather how much preschool do children need? His answer: More is better… Reynolds found that children in full-day programs were better prepared for school than those in half-day programs.”
And Timothy Bartik’s new book, “From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education,” is an eloquent, compelling primer on the power of preschool.
Massachusetts can learn from and build on its own successes. Among these are the Boston Public Schools’ preschool program as well as the Massachusetts Third Grade Reading Proficiency Learning Network, a project that fuses our work with community efforts in towns across the commonwealth.
In addition, Massachusetts has been awarded two federal grants. As Martes explains:
“In December, Massachusetts made public policy headlines by winning a federal Preschool Development Grant. Announced during the White House Summit on Early Education, the award will bring $15 million to the commonwealth in the first year to expand preschool programs. The state stands to get a total of $60 million over four years.
“For Baker, these funds will provide a running start that builds on the crucial federal funding that Massachusetts was awarded in 2011, when the state won a $50 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant.”
Federal funding, however, isn’t enough.
“As Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma have all shown, state governments can improve preschool outcomes by boosting their own preschool budgets.”
Massachusetts can do the same.
“It will be up to Baker and the Legislature to make additional investments in our children. Fortunately, they can do so knowing that they will save money in the long run by avoiding expensive remediation and helping to develop a highly skilled workforce.”