Published April 5, 2013
President Obama’s passionate proposal to make pre-kindergarten a universal experience for all children growing up in America is a “no-brainer” great idea, capable of cultivating better students and more balanced, happier people, according to the director of the Early Childhood Research Center in UB's Graduate School of Education.
“From my perspective there isn’t much to analyze,” says Kelly Roy. “Given the 40-plus years of research on high-quality preschool and the consistent and positive results, it’s a no-brainer to provide high-quality preschool services.
“It saves money in the long run and helps people lead more productive lives,” Roy says. “It’s the right thing to do, regardless of your political leanings.”
Roy says New York serves its 4-year-olds relatively well. In 2011, 45 percent of the 4-year-olds in New York received pre-kindergarten training.
“Our numbers in Western New York are higher,” notes Roy, adding that there is no income requirement for children to participate in pre-kindergarten classes in New York.
Roy cites numerous long-term studies—including the Perry Preschool beginning in the early 1960s—that have found individuals and society benefit from children attending quality preschool as early as possible.
The long-term benefits, according to Roy, include increased educational success measured through increased achievement and attainment; decreased special education and grade repetition; decreased behavioral difficulties, depression, drug use or involvement in crime; as well as increased earnings and employment success.
“These individual benefits result in savings to society in costs associated with crime and punishment, health care costs and social service costs associated with dependence on government support,” she says.
Short-term benefits include increased cognitive skills, she says. “Kids are learning positive things and they enjoy it.”
Social and emotional skills also develop well in a high-quality program.
“Children learn how to regulate their own behavior to learn well in a group,” Roy says. “Elements of a high-quality program include teachers who are well-educated and paid fairly. They plan well to meet the children’s needs and then reflect on their work to continuously improve the children’s learning.”
Any pre-kindergarten class will not do, she says. The size and ratio of teachers to children should be adequate to meet the needs of the class and allow the teacher to do his or her job well. There also needs to be a policy foundation within which a preschool operates that supports its success for it to be high quality, according to Roy. This includes high standards, adequate funding and continued evaluation for improvement.
I remember walking my children to pre-school; I enjoyed being a "helping father." Will that still continue?