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Every parent wants to provide their child a shot at success: educational achievement, a solid job, a good living, health and well-being. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that early childhood education and kindergarten have in making this possible.
While connecting the dots between kindergarten and adulthood might seem like a big leap, the ability to recognize letters, numbers, shapes and sizes of objects — the beginning of literacy in reading and math — positions children to handle the growing curriculum requirements as they move forward in school.
Robert Fulghum’s book title, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” contains a kernel of truth. In fact, third-graders who do not read proficiently will not only struggle in later grades, they are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers.
Differences in performance are already recognizable before a child arrives in kindergarten. Astonishingly, studies have found that a 3-year-old child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a wealthier family. By the time children from low-income and minority families (black, Hispanic and American Indian) reach fourth grade, nearly half will read below the basic level.
This trajectory, which can make the transition to adulthood so troublesome, is not inevitable or given. I have seen — and been inspired by — thousands of motivated young people from all walks of life whose hard work and commitment have enabled them to enter college and prosper, academically and professionally. Talent and ability are not determined by zip code or family income. But it’s surely within our capacity to create the conditions that will make this journey easier and ultimately more fruitful.
Henry Honcharevich, 6, uses a computer during class at Sierra Verde School in Glendale. (Photo: The Arizona Republic)
I am a strong advocate for full-day kindergarten for every child in Arizona. This is a critical early step to creating a solid foundation for learning, positioning them to achieve academic success and improving their long-term prospects.
Full-day kindergarten, along with great early childhood preparation and nutrition, provides the best set of ingredients for successful life-long learners. It represents one of the key components in the cycle of learning that should begin in pre-K and continue throughout an individual’s life — a cycle that allows our citizens to adapt and prosper in a rapidly changing society and economy.
This is where they will learn basic elements of literacy such as letter recognition, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension. A full-day program gives teachers the opportunity to delve into language arts, math, science, art, social studies and physical education.
It also allows them to identify children dealing with learning deficiencies. We have the ability to close the achievement gaps and put our children on a positive path to educational attainment.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow. (Photo: Tim Trumble)
Investing in kindergarten not only benefits students personally, the societal benefits can be measured in lower rates of delinquency and crime, as well as healthier lifestyles and better educational outcomes. Who knows how many talented young people, who never reached their potential because of those early struggles with learning, could have made valuable contributions to society’s improvement?
Faced with limited funding, full-day kindergarten is not available in every school district or affordable by every parent. But it should be an option for every parent and the responsibility of every school. This is a high-priority investment that can pay clear and powerful dividends for decades to come.
If kindergarten once was a cozy setting for cookies and naps, today we should know it as a curriculum-rich launching pad. There still may be cookies, but the bigger prize is giving all of our kids a clear shot at success.
Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University.