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Building a quality education for our children          Send a link to a friend

By Barbara Bowman

[JUNE 9, 2006]  The governor's Preschool for All Children program is a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead Illinois to a better future.

While the good news about early education is its increased acceptance, an important caveat is often ignored. Just attending a preschool program does not automatically guarantee its benefits.

For children to get the most out of growing public investments in early learning, we must align standards, curriculum and assessment from pre-kindergarten through the early elementary grades. This is the PK-3 approach.

Ideally, PK-3 begins with voluntary, full-day pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-old children. Compulsory schooling begins in kindergarten with a curriculum that builds on pre-kindergarten experiences. Children need developmental experiences that include social interaction, language stimulation and opportunities to try out maturing abilities. They also need educational experiences, which is the application of developmental capabilities to the social and academic tasks required by school. Good education plans provide both developmental and educational experiences.

Making sure that all children have the range of experience necessary to be ready for school is a complex and difficult process. Good programs require teachers who know and understand what children need to know and be able to do. The PK-3 approach encourages principals to build strong teams of qualified teachers. Teachers are required to have the qualifications, knowledge and skills to teach all grades from pre-kindergarten through third grade. Teachers will thoroughly understand the development of the curriculum across grade levels and ages. This enables parents to build long-term relationships with these important adults in their children's lives. To help qualified teachers make a career of early education, we must pay them what we pay all other elementary school teachers.

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Research supports the PK-3 approach. A study by Arthur Reynolds, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked 1,500 disadvantaged minority children in Chicago for 16 years. About two-thirds of the children participated in a comprehensive preschool program where standards, curriculum and assessment were aligned with kindergarten through third grade. Called the Child-Parent Centers, these programs were part of the Chicago Public School system. The study found that the participants were almost 30 percent more likely to complete high school than a comparison group of equally disadvantaged children. Forty percent fewer of the participants were held back in school or placed in special education, and program participants had 41 percent fewer arrests for violent crime. The study shows that an established government-funded and administered program can generate long-lasting results and benefits, such as higher incomes and better citizenship.

Children who participate in PK-3 programs are also more likely to reach fourth grade equipped with the skills needed to learn at a higher level, narrow the achievement gap between groups of children and meet federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind law. The programs also improve every child's chance of graduating from high school and becoming productive members of their communities.

We can do better for our children. The governor's Preschool for All program is a good start. We must now build on this and implement the PK-3 approach to help ensure long-term success for our children.

[Barbara Bowman]

Barbara Bowman is a professor and co-founder of the Erikson Institute.

Copyright 2006 by the Illinois Editorial Forum

Letters should be sent to the Illinois Editorial Forum, P.O. Box 82, Springfield, IL 62705-0082.

The Illinois Editorial Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization, provides the media with the views of state experts on major public concerns in order to stimulate informed discussion.

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