House of Representatives’ bill 2637 aims to strengthen student achievement and graduation rates and prepare young people for college, careers, and citizenship through innovative partnerships that meet the comprehensive needs of children and youth.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu [D-CA32] (sponsor) and David Loebsack [D-IA2] (co-sponsor) on July 25, 2011, and cites the Future of Children saying “…. (5) An analysis of health problems, maternal child rearing practices, and the impact of such problems and practices on education published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution estimates that differences in these factors may account for a quarter of the racial gap in school readiness…”
The Future of Children’s Volume on School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps goes on to highlight the promising strategy of increasing access to high-quality center-based early childhood education programs for poor three- and four-year-olds. Such a step would measurably boost the achievement of black and Hispanic children and narrow the school readiness gap, a priority noted in the bill ((6)1).
What should these programs look like?
High-quality Learning Environment: The education component must be high-quality, with small class sizes, a low teacher-pupil ratio, and teachers with bachelor degrees and training in early childhood education, using a curriculum that is cognitively stimulating. Not all of the child care centers and Head Start programs that now serve low-income children meet these standards.
Teacher Training: Teachers should be trained to identify children with moderate to severe behavioral problems and to work with these children to improve their emotional and social skills. Although such training is now being provided by some Head Start and some preschool programs, it is not available in most child care programs.
Parent Training: Parent training reinforces what teachers are doing in school to enhance children’s development. Examples include encouraging parents to read to children on a daily basis and teaching parents how to deal with behavior problems.
Home Visits: Staff should be available to identify health problems in children and to help parents get ongoing health care for their children. Including optional home visits would allow staff to further screen for serious mental health problems among parents or other behaviors that are not conducive to good child development. Although some Head Start programs and child care centers in low-income communities do link parents with health care services for their children, these programs do not include a home visit.
Integration: Finally, the new programs should be well aligned with the kindergarten programs that children will eventually attend so that the transition from preschool to kindergarten is successful for children, parents, and teachers.
High-quality early childhood programs such as these exist. The challenge for policymakers and practitioners is to extend the reach of these programs and make them available to low-income children, during a time of budget restraint and entitlement cuts. The return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial, and that should be considered when discussing the costs and benefits of budgetary changes.