High Quality Preschool Closes the Achievement Gap

05 February 2013 Written by  

Utah needs greater investment in high quality preschool and the school readiness of Utah’s children, particularly low-income and at-risk children. One of the best predictors of high school graduation and attendance in college is reading proficiency in third grade. Studies show that one of the most important predictors of third grade test performance is school readiness at kindergarten entry. Senator Aaron Osmond will be introducing a bill during this year’s legislative session that will fund preschool for 3 and 4 year old at-risk kids.

Many low-income children begin school with an opportunity gap. Studies show that 3 year old children from low-income families have a vocabulary of 500-700 words, whereas 3 year olds from professional families have a vocabulary of 1,100 words. This opportunity gap in early literacy becomes an achievement gap in Language Arts once children enter and progress in school. High quality preschool for at-risk children closes the opportunity gap and improves school readiness, reduces the achievement gap, reduces the need for special education and other remedial services, improves high school graduation rates and improves long-term earnings for low-income children.

Dr. James Heckman, University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate has written extensively on the productivity argument for investing in early childhood development: “Early interventions for disadvantaged children promote schooling, raise the quality of the workforce, enhance the productivity of schools and reduce crime, teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency.” In addition, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis economists Arthur J. Rolnick and Rob Grunewald contend that investments in human capital prior to kindergarten provide a high public return and the most efficient way to increase the productivity of the future workforce is to invest in today’s youngest, especially at risk, children.

Results from a preschool program in Title I schools in the Granite School District show that high quality programs for at-risk children is closing both the opportunity gap and the achievement gap. Children who are currently in 5th grade and attended the Granite School District’s high quality preschool program beginning in 2006, on average, performed comparably to all children in the state in Language Arts and Math in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades, even though many of these preschoolers did not speak English when they entered preschool.

Utah invests very little in early education. Additional investments in the school readiness of at-risk children before they enter school would reap dividends for all of us and move Utah towards reaching the 66 percent goal for all Utahns having post-secondary degrees or certificates.

April Young Bennett 300April Young Bennett, Communications Director, joined the organization in 2014. She received her Master of Public Administration from the University of Arizona and her Bachelor in Community Health Education from Utah State University. Prior to joining Voices for Utah Children, April worked for the Utah Department of Health for over a decade, addressing health disparities among minorities and other underserved Utahns. She completed internships and fellowships with the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the U.S. Senate.