By David L. Cohen
It's not always the case that the business and education sectors are in full agreement on what's needed to improve the quality of education and skills of our students. But when it comes to prekindergarten, the stars are fully aligned.
One of our nation's most respected business leaders, John Pepper of Procter & Gamble, says it best: "Being ready for kindergarten affects everything that follows. The connections from preschool to third-grade reading proficiency to high-school completion - a bare-minimum requirement in today's economy - could not be clearer."
He's so right. Consider the following two simple examples that prove his point:
In Maryland, children who were assessed as not "fully ready" for kindergarten were five times more likely to fail third-grade reading and math standards.
Children in Cincinnati who weren't ready for kindergarten were half as likely as those who were ready to later meet third-grade reading standards.
These examples are both alarming and instructive. They tell us that if we ensure that young children start kindergarten knowing some basics, they are much more likely to succeed in third grade. And there is persuasive research published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that finds that when students enter fourth grade reading well, they are four times more likely to graduate than those who entered fourth grade unable to read at grade level.
Many children start school ready to learn because their parents have the time and ability to help them develop those basic early learning skills, and, more often than not, these children will have had the benefit of a year or more of a high-quality pre-K program. But for many families, the cost of quality pre-K is out of reach, and juggling other family demands leaves them little time to help their children master the building blocks of learning that are essential to school success.
That's why school districts, states, and the federal government are increasingly sharpening their focus and investment in quality pre-K. Unfortunately, in the Keystone State, the limitations of public funding make it possible for only one in six 3- and 4-year-old children to enroll in the kind of pre-K program that will prepare them for school. Sadly, the rest are the very children research says will benefit most from such programs.
The good news is that support for high-quality pre-K may be reaching a tipping point in Pennsylvania. Polls show that a strong majority of voters want to see expanded pre-K investment. Harrisburg gets it as well: The largest legislative caucus is the 127-member, bipartisan, bi-cameral Early Childhood Education Caucus. More evidence of support is Gov. Corbett's proposed increase of $10 million for the state's stellar Pre-K Counts program.
These are all good signs. But states such as Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and even Oklahoma are outpacing Pennsylvania when it comes to ensuring that all children have access to great pre-K programs. We are in a highly competitive economy, and businesses and communities that win are those with the most educated workforces. It's clear to many business leaders that for Pennsylvania to boost its chances of remaining a highly competitive state, we must ensure that every child starts school with the skills proven to increase his chances of a lifetime of success - the very skills that good pre-K programs are known to provide.
Early-childhood education today is not just a "nice to have" - it is an educational, moral, and societal imperative essential to building the workforce of the future. I am proud to support a statewide coalition of 10 leading organizations that are working to change the future for Pennsylvania's children.
The newly announced Pre-K for PA campaign is an opportunity for us to rally behind a simple premise: All children should have the opportunity to enter kindergarten ready for success. Together, we can make this happen.