Conventional wisdom would put forward that academic success in middle and high school is accomplished through a combination of effective parenting and teaching, good curricula, and determined students. I would agree that these are necessary aids in preparing students for success in academics. However, there is another factor that turns out to be incredibly significant to ensuring strong performance - when children start "school".
The ability to learn early in one's life has a positive, lifelong impact on one's future. As several studies and opinions of educational professionals will support, starting a highly structured educational program as early as possible has a substantial impact on a child's ability to succeed later in their educational career.
When the Westbury School District initiated their all-day preschool program [a program supported in part by funding from the NYS Contract for Excellence Program], it was a step in the right direction, one that, if designed and executed correctly, will yield significant benefits in the years to come. The importance of getting our children into a school setting as early as possible is crucial. Several studies (some going back to the 1960's) have proven who children, particularly low-income students, who have access to high quality preschool programs have better life outcomes than those student that do not have access.
One such study was the famed Perry Preschool Program in 1962 (Ypsilanti, Michigan). This study randomly assigned some low income, African-American, 3-and 4-year olds to preschool. In 2004, an analysis of the progress of the children that did and did not attend preschool was astonishing. Those who did attend preschool outperformed their non-participating peers on academic assessments at ages 5, 9, 14, 19 and 27. For every $1 invested in this preschool program returned $17 over 40 years to society and individuals (computed as net savings in welfare, education, crime prevention and contributions from taxes on earnings).
Another study by the National Institute of Early Education Research (2005) researched disadvantaged 5-year olds in five states. Students that were in high quality preschool programs substantially outperformed their non-preschool attending peers in readiness tests in vocabulary, print awareness, and early mathematics.
The performance disparity analyzed in these studies is very convincing for districts to invest in their approach to early childhood education. Yet, across the country, only 22 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs (3 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in programs)!
The superintendent's move to get this program started is a great step in the right direction.
Senior Director, The College Board
(Editor's Note: Staton Brown is a resident of Westbury)