It’s a simple statement of fact, backed by the findings by hundreds of researchers over many years and the experiences of tens of thousands of educators.
They are two words that should be at the top of the list of priorities for the U.S. government, Tennessee government, and our local governments.
Those two words are also the title of a new infographic that makes the case for the importance of Pre-K and the dramatic returns on investments that it delivers.
With the latest research, results, and returns on investment, leaders are challenged to transform urban education and urban communities by creating a Pre-K-12 system rather than a K-12 system. For the most part, we currently have a system where children are five and six years old when they enroll in school despite the fact that we know conclusively that by the age of three, the brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size, and that vital learning happens before the age of five.
In other words, at a time when the brain is growing at an astounding rate – the fastest it will ever grow – we are depriving children of their chance to make the most of this crucial time.
Young children can stop the achievement gap before it even gets started. The Urban Child Institute published an earlier study that showed that while the brain is growing to 80 percent of its adult size, only three percent of the funding for education is being spent in those early years. The Urban Child Institute also recently released the parents’ handbook, Kindergarten Readiness Begins at Birth. It summarizes best practices to promote optimal brain development during early childhood and outline ways parents can ensure their children develop basic mental, emotional, and social skills needed to succeed in school. For way too long, Pre-K has been seen as a good thing to do, but it has not been seen as a necessity.
Today, we know better: Pre-K can transform the course of a child’s life, resulting in everything from improved vocabulary to improved attendance to better graduation rates. As the infographic shows, the positive impact of Pre-K goes far beyond the early grades, because its impact is felt in the teen age and adult years as measured by family formations, more job hours worked, avoidance of criminal behaviors, less reliance on social and human services, and even improved income and health. For example, by the age of 27, people who attended Pre-K are three times more likely to own a home than someone who did not attend Pre-K, twice as likely to not receive welfare, and four times more likely to earn more than $2,000 a month. In addition, people who have no Pre-K are twice as likely to be arrested by the time they are 27 years old.
There are frequent calls for budget cuts these days that include cuts in pre-k funding. It’s a false economy. Three highly regarded pre-k programs have shown that for every $1 invested in them, there were returns on investment of $3.78, $8.74, and $10.15.
Today, governments wrestle with budgetary constraints on one hand and the pressures to produce an educational system on the other hand that can put the U.S. at the top in achievement. The answer to both is a stronger commitment to Pre-K, which is why we strongly support the recommendation of the Shelby County Transition Planning Commission for the new unified school district to add 2,500 pre-k slots over five years.
A Pre-K-12 system is the smartest investment government can make. It pays big dividends and produces better student outcomes and more college graduates as Memphis and the nation compete in a knowledge economy.
Pre-K Matters. There is no argument about it any more.