Emily Berman: Universal Pre-K

The final assignment for SOC419 is an essay detailing a reform measure that could be taken to respond to the crisis in American education. The following is a student recommendation for public education policy. 

After attending all of the lectures and the discussions for this forum duringthe semester, what I have learned is that there is no easy or clear answer for how to improve public education in the United States.  I do not think this is a bad thing to learn; in fact, it motivates me more to look for the answer to this pressing issue.  Though I do not see myself going into education policy and overthrowing the system, I do think that I will dedicate myself to trying to work within the weak system we have to improve the educational experience for the students I am in contact with.  There are many small changes that can be made to improve the condition of education in the United States, and many should be implemented, but haven’t yet because of lack of funds.  For the purposes of this paper, I am going to focus on the need of improved early childhood education to improve the condition of education in the United States.  This area, which is seriously lacking research and public interest, has a plethora of opportunities for improvement, and not only will improve the education condition for education in the United States, but will improve the working conditions, both by providing new jobs and by allowing parents to continue working while having a young family.

In an ideal world, I would love to see public pre-kindergarten education beginning at thirteen months of age.  At this age, the child can start to drink milk products and does not always need to be with the mother for breast milk.  Though this age may seem young, research has found that this is an optimal age to intervene because “intervening in the zero-to-three period, when children are at their most receptive stage of development, has the potential to permanently alter their development trajectories and protect them against risk factors present in their early environment” (1).  Although when Beth Bye came to speak to us she warned that public education at that young of an age could lead to attachment issues, I feel that it is more important that the United States education provides a public means to educate children from a young age and give opportunity for families to have two working parents at all times.  In conjunction with this reform to provide public pre-kindergarten education starting at 13 months of age, I propose what Beth Bye suggested: an accommodating one-year leave-of-absence pay from all employment, so that the child is never without care and parents do not have to sacrifice an income. Heckman suggests that education should begin pre-natal, educating mothers about health risks during pregnancy (1).  Although I do agree with this idea, I don’t think it should fall under the scope of education reform in the United States.  This may be something OB/GYN practitioners need to improve upon to create more comprehensive pregnancy care.  In terms of education, I think it should be their domain once the child does not need breast milk anymore.  Educational intervention as early as possible after that is what I feel is the best step the United States can take towards improving public education in the United States.

The education reform act recently enacted in Connecticut takes a good first step towards making pre-kindergarten education more available- the bill creates “1,000 new slots in school readiness programs in targeted districts,” gives pre-kindergarten education facilities money to accommodate these new slots, and proposes to create a new system to help evaluate these facilities (3).  This is a good first step in my opinion more because of the evaluation method being created than the new slots opened up.  We need to know what type of education is effective for early childhood before we start endorsing it.  Opening up these slots is a) not sufficient for the need that there is for these school readiness programs and b) does not do anything to mitigate the costs for school readiness education.  That being said, I believe recognizing the importance of school-readiness education is the first step to prioritizing it, so that more funds can be allotted to it and this type of schooling can become a public institution.

I feel that pre-kindergarten education should become public and work like the K-12 system does because, as of now, only those who can afford school readiness programs are receiving them, creating a socioeconomically driven achievement gap before the children have even entered school.  If pre-kindergarten education can be made public, then those of all socioeconomic levels will benefit.  It has been found that  “ more advantaged peers may have had a positive impact on the language learning environment in the economically integrated preschools” (2).  This could extend to other types of learning beside language and could prove critical to closing the achievement gap that is so prominent later on in students’ education.  If pre-kindergarten education is public and accessible to everyone, then we can try to nip the problem of the achievement gap in the bud; we will expose children at an earlier age as well, and we will hopefully create more tolerant and understanding students through this as well.

In conclusion, there are many facets of public education that need to be reformed or completely redone, but my proposal focuses on improving early childhood public education in the United States, specifically, making it a public institution like K-12 education.  I feel this is a realistic way to help close the achievement gap, allow parents to go back to work sooner and contribute to their family’s income, and create an entirely new slew of jobs in the field of early childhood education.  Once people recognize the benefit children receive from early intervention in education, and the impact it has on their interactive future, people may begin to take this proposal seriously and enact change.  Though instating this idea is one step towards improving education, it will by no means solve all the issues with public education.  A major caveat of this proposal is that money is needed to improve these resources, and without money, creating public education for pre-kindergarten may not be possible.  Time will tell if the Untied States realizes the importance of investing in education.

Sources:

1. Doyle, O., Harmon, C., Heckman, J., and Tremblay, R. “Investing in early human 

development: Timing and economic efficiency.” Economics and Human Biology 7 (2009): 1–6. Print. 

2. Schechter, C., and Bye, B. “Preliminary evidence for the impact of mixed-income 

preschools on low-income children’s language growth.” Early Childhood Research 

Quarterly  22 (2007): 137–146

3. Summary of SB 458 – An Act Concerning Educational Reform.” New Haven Federation 

of Teachers Local 933. 2012. AFT Connecticut.  30 Nov 2012. <http://nhft.ct.aft.org/summary-sb-458-act-concerning-educational-reform&gt;.

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