We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
By Cat Sidor
We’ve known for some time that early education can reap big gains in student achievement. But in case you needed more examples, lets take a closer look at Florida and Minnesota.
States that are seeing the most rapidly improving education system are investing in early childhood education. When a child gets a strong start with a high-quality early education experience, they enter kindergarten ready and are less likely to need remediation or special education. According to state Senator Charles Wiger of Minnesota, “it helps graduation rates, and that helps college attainment and better jobs.”
So let’s take a closer look at how Minnesota and Florida are investing in early education, how that might apply to us here in Massachusetts.
Minnesota: Low cost programs bring early learning to families
Minnesota ranks first in math scores and in the top ten of every other category. In 2003 Minnesota’s NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math score was 241.91. In just ten years the score jumped to 253.42 in 2013. Their reading scores have improved also, from 222.61 in 2003 to 227.03 in 2013.
So what is Minnesota doing differently? They possess the nations most extensive early childhood and new parent program, the Early Childhood Family Education program, where families with children ages 0-4 can enroll in a weekly class where the child and parent can learn together. Minnesota Department of Education cites the ECFE is based on the idea that “the family provides a child’s first and most significant learning environment and parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. ECFE’s goal is to enhance the ability of all parents and other family members to provide the best possible environment for their child’s learning and growth.”
This program helps prepare children for school, and focuses on children from lower income homes. The state invests to keep fees low to encourage enrollment. Making early education affordable is key in the success of this program- it makes it accessible to almost anyone who wants a good early education for their child.
Florida: Preschool fuels academic turnaround
Florida has had a rapid growth in learning over the last 10 years. In 2003, Florida held back one in every seven third graders, due to a new policy requiring the retention of students who could not read. Since then, the retention rate has dropped by half.
How did they accomplish this? Universal access to pre-K was a key aspect to this progress. Florida’s education system was failing the students, so the Florida Constitution was amended and required the establishment of a universal prekindergarten. Since then, Florida has seen huge academic gains demonstrated in the NAEP reading scores.
Elementary school principal Ray King points out: “you don’t fix language and reading problems in the eighth grade. It’s like framing a house when you haven’t built a foundation.” There needs to be a strong foundation for learning early in life so that the students can build off of it. A strong early education can ensure that kids are keeping up so that they don’t fall behind in language and reading.
What Massachusetts Can Learn
Massachusetts, a state known for leading on education has 30,000 kids on the waiting list for more affordable early education. While our schools are among the best in the country, there are a number of places in Massachusetts where the schools are struggling heavily.
Every child deserves the same strong start, and these “achievement gaps” across the state are not acceptable. It is time to invest in early education; much like Minnesota and Florida have done to make sure every child starts kindergarten ready to succeed.
These stories of success should be an influence and inspiration to expand and improve our early education programs in Massachusetts. Early education could help guarantee a fair start to all Massachusetts preschoolers to make sure they all have a strong foundation in life.