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.
[to top of second column]
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 is a professor and co-founder of the Erikson
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
Click here to respond to the editor about this