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The President and Pre-K

outreachThe State of the Union address has come and gone, and many people have discussed the hot button issues while letting one slide past them: President Obama delivered a message about preschool. Here’s what he said:

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children… studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

We know that the achievement gap starts early. We know that the best financial investment we can make in a society is our children, and making that investment as early as possible is vital. While the details of his plan are still in development, it is promising that the President has gotten the message that our kids need help from an early age.

Poverty is the largest factor that affects whether or not children will be successful later in life. To give children equal access to pre-K is a great step in the right direction. It seems odd that as teachers, as professional educators, we have been stressing the importance of early intervention, but it is only now being heard. For example, we know that gaps in early development only widen as children grow older. We also know that most of the students with these gaps are students of color. In San José Unified, they are predominantly Latino.

It would be an understatement to say that we need to catch students before they fall. We need to be sure that the second they falter, one of us, as an adult, is there to save them from the pitfalls they may fall into. As a high school teacher who is married to an intervention teacher and who has taught many former intervention students, it is painfully obvious that we can only do so much.

I am reminded of an IEP I attended in which I pulled up the student’s grades to make a point to him and his mother. He had never passed an English class. He had not received anything other than an F in English since the sixth grade. (Sure enough, he was struggling with a D- in my class.)

I wonder what this student’s academic career would have been like if he’d had interventions at lower levels rather than the 9th grade. Would I be having the same meeting? Would he still be reading multiple grade levels below his current one? Would he still be unable to write an essay as a 10th grader? Most importantly: How differently would he view himself as a student and as a person in this world?

It’s worth a shot to see. We know that what we are doing currently is both unsustainable and simply not working. Why not intervene at kindergarten or first grade or second grade or even the third grade, especially when I hear colleagues that those levels already foreseeing bad futures? Let’s invest everything we have in those students’ literacy and basic math skills and see what happens. It can’t hurt.

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