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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

To end inequality, more preschool?

“Inequality in America is apparent by age 3, writes writes Heather Long in the Washington Post. “Most rich kids are in school, while most poor kids are not,” according to a new book, Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality.

At Manhattan preschools, wealthy parents pay $30,000 a year for their children to learn  “French, Chinese, violin, yoga and robotics — all before kindergarten,” writes Long.

Is care by family members inferior to formal care?

In the Bronx, working parents who can’t afford a day-care center or preschool, leave their children with family members or neighbors. Grandma rarely teaches robotics or even phonics. She may park the kids in front of the TV.

“Only 55 percent of America’s 3 and 4-year-olds attend a formal preschool, a rate far below China, Germany and other power players on the global stage,” writes Long.

The inequality that begins before kindergarten lasts a lifetime. Children who don’t get formal schooling until kindergarten start off a year behind in math and verbal skills and they never catch up, according to the authors, who cite a growing body of research that’s been following children since the 1940s. In fact, the gap between rich and poor kids’ math and reading skills has been growing since the 1970s. The “left behind” kids are also more likely to end up in lower-paying jobs.

As it happens, my husband and I have been babysitting his grandkids for a few days while their parents attended a wedding. We took them to a children’s museum and to a Legoland Discovery Center (you pay money to revel in Lego marketing and buy Lego sets) and to their Tae Kwan Do class.

These kids have been raised by well-educated, reasonably sane, upper-middle-class parents who’ve provided a safe, secure home with lots of conversation, songs, stories, toys, visits to the park, zoo, etc. These kids’ advantages have nothing to do with preschool.

The book’s authors want to triple U.S. spending on early childhood education to “make preschool available for every child start at age three,” subsidize paid parental leave and affordable child care and “reimagine” Head Start as a program “that begins working with poor families as soon as a child is born.”

Low-income and minority children typically attend lower-quality preschools than advantaged children concludes a new study of more than 12,000 students in 11 states. “The findings raise questions about the ability of publicly funded preschool to narrow achievement gaps,” writes Holly Yettick in Ed Week.

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