When President Obama announced in his State of the Union speech last month that he planned to partner with states to ensure that all low- to middle-income four-year olds have access to qualify pre-k programs, who would have thought that this could be turned into a controversial topic? But yes, everything good, even pre-k, has its critics. And those critics claim that Head Start and other similar early childhood programs throughout the country have little to no long lasting positive effects on the children enrolled in them. From what I’ve read, some studies suggest that any gains made by children enrolled in pre-k programs diminish by the time they reach the third grade, while others suggest that the gains are more long-term, and can’t be measured by a child’s academic achievement in the early grades alone. And some even suggest that early childhood programs have negative long-term effects, though in my opinion, this is a bit extreme to say the least.
I understand that the price is high for possibly only modest gains in student achievement, but there’s more to pre-k than that. When my (currently nonexistent) child enters Kindergarten one day, she will be coming from a nurturing, safe, loving environment, and will already know her ABCs, colors, shapes, how to write her name, and everything else that a five-year-old should know. But there are so many children who do not come from such environments and enter Kindergarten with no educational foundation at all. Pre-k gives these children the opportunity to catch up and provides that safe environment they may not have at home. Almost as importantly, it gives parents the opportunity to work, to go back to school, to better themselves, without having to worry about childcare.
If every child grew up in a loving, nurturing home with two parents who are financially able to satisfy all of their needs, we wouldn’t need universal pre-k, but that’s not the reality of the world we live in. Even pre-k has become a political battlefield, and I can’t help but think that if it were anyone other than President Obama proposing this plan, the opposition might not be so loud. Even if pre-k does nothing more than provide a temporary refuge for the child born into a poverty-stricken, single parent, unstable home, isn’t that enough?