In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on states to help him make high-quality preschool available to every child in the US. He said, “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”
A recent New York Times Op-Ed by David Brooks explains that the existing federal preschool program, Head Start, has yielded null or weak results since its start in the 1960s. But several states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, and New Jersey, have tried in recent years to establish more effective alternatives, with higher performance standards and better-trained teachers.
Although these state programs are in their early stages, studies confirm that high-quality early education can improve literacy (see the Future of Children issue on Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-first Century) and even close racial-ethnic gaps in school readiness. In the Future of Children issue on School Readiness, experts describe what effective programs should look like. First, they should have a high-quality education component, meaning well-trained teachers, a high teacher-student ratio, and a rigorous curriculum. Second, they should train teachers to identify children with behavioral or health problems to help them receive the care they need. Third, they should emphasize the role of parents in student learning. Finally, they should have strong ties to kindergarten programs to ensure that children make a smooth transition to elementary school.
As states act on President Obama’s call, the implementation and practice of these programs should be based on the best evidence to date. Visit the Future of Children website for a summary of research findings and policy recommendations.