It’s not enough to make preschool universal

April 21

The District has led the country in giving its residents universal access to preschool, and and New York and other cities are now following suit. But if preschool is going to close the achievement gap for low-income kids, it has to be high-quality. And even that may not be enough to do the trick.

A good preschool program teaches all children the social and emotional skills that will help ensure their future success in school: things like how to cooperate with their classmates and how to listen when the teacher is talking.

But research has shown that in the first four years of life, high-income children hear about 30 million more words than their low-income peers. So if kids at all income levels are going to start kindergarten on an equal footing, preschools serving poor children need to also provide the vocabulary and background knowledge that wealthier ones get at home.

That’s especially important here in the District, where three out of four entering fourth-graders read below grade level. Should we now follow the lead of other cities and start even earlier than preschool?

In the District, both DCPS and charter schools offer public preschool. There are about 60 charter schools that offer early childhood education, starting at age 3 or 4, according to the Public Charter School Board.

All DCPS elementary schools and K-8 education campuses offer pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, and most elementary schools also offer preschool for 3-year-olds. DCPS doesn’t guarantee pre-K or preschool slots at neighborhood schools. Residents have to enter a lottery to secure one.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler's post at Greater Greater Education.]

Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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