One of our nation’s (and Idaho’s) greatest challenges is addressing the chronically low levels of reading preparedness among our children. What can we do to solve this dilemma? We believe early childhood education is the answer.
Implementation of a pilot program providing quality preschool at Idaho elementary schools with the lowest percentages of reading preparedness would be a game changer for students at those schools. In 2021 just over 14 % of students at these 25 schools were ready to read (the Idaho average was 42%).
We are confident that quality preschool programs can provide excellent preparation so that 75% of students in those schools arrive in kindergarten ready to read. Doing so would ensure that 700 hundred more students annually would be adequately prepared for reading — a key predictor of academic and lifelong success. Expansion of the program to other schools with low preparedness levels could follow a successful pilot.
In Idaho, a number of schools have high levels of poverty, as measured by family qualification for free/reduced lunch. Not surprisingly, these schools also have the highest levels of children who are not “ready to read” as measured by the Fall kindergarten percentages on the IRI.
Poverty strikes children the hardest, because they are the most vulnerable, and the least capable of addressing their most basic needs. However, all these services can be made available for preschool children if there is a will in the legislature to provide the essential funding.
Idaho community schools are uniquely poised to assist children from impoverished backgrounds. They deliver not only excellent classroom instruction with caring, certified teachers, but provide reading specialists, one-on-one aides, paraprofessionals, school counselors, nutritious breakfast and lunch programs, and ready access to school counseling.
Many hard-working Idaho families climb the mountain daily trying to make ends meet. Frequently they are underemployed, or are working in low wage sectors, and live paycheck to paycheck, often just one step away from being homeless. And many families in poverty are led by single parents, which intensifies their burden.
Economic anxiety can be overwhelming when parents work 12-hour or multiple part-time shifts outside the home. These demanding work schedules often preclude them from investing the necessary time assisting their children educationally.
The research is very clear that preschool funding is an excellent investment in the future. The return on investment for implementing preschool programs is high, especially among disadvantaged populations.
Let’s get started with preschool, Idaho. If not now, when?