The single most effective step that could help poor children and children from troubled families succeed in school would be to get them into “high-quality preschool.”
We’ve heard and read this so many times, from different sources — and it just makes so much sense — that we applaud the state’s latest effort to get some federal money for this purpose, in the form of a $47.6 million grant. All children from poor families would qualify, according to a published report, but the state would give priority to those who are homeless or in foster care.
Advocates say that high numbers of the preschool-age Connecticut children who were homeless, in foster care or in transitional housing this school year were not enrolled in preschool, and that the number of state-funded preschool seats is inadequate.
The rationale for “high-quality preschool” is that, without it, children are much less likely to thrive through the transition to kindergarten and the early grades. They may be at a disadvantage all the way through high school.
“The reality remains that one Connecticut child in every four enters kindergarten without the skills, knowledge and behavioral skills needed to succeed,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote in November in a letter attached to the grant application.
This kind of program might go a long way toward at least narrowing, if not closing, this state’s notorious “achievement gap” between disadvantaged kids living in urban poverty and middle-class children in the suburbs — a gap that’s one of the worst in the nation, according to a recent report. However, the state has tried for this grant twice before, only to be shot down.
Nevertheless, the children who would benefit from the grant live in 14 cities and towns, although Meriden is not included. And the program is not huge — the federal money would cover 428 more 4-year-olds not yet in preschool and improve the programs for another 284 children — but it’s something.
Something to watch, though, is how frequently (and therefore perhaps how loosely) the expression “high-quality preschool” comes up whenever a program such as this is discussed. Naturally, we would want any school or preschool to be of high quality, and it may be that “high-quality preschool” is an indirect way of saying “not just some glorified babysitting program.”
At any rate, it is to be hoped that parents will want more than buzzwords; that they’ll demand to know, specifically, what “high-quality preschool” means for their child.