A football team can excel beyond expectations with the proper preparation, focus, coaching and talent. That is exactly how things played out Saturday at Candlestick Park, when the San Francisco 49ers soundly beat the Green Bay Packers.
Similarly, strong preparation, coaching and building skills for future success are precisely what we as a community need to do for our children before they enter kindergarten.
Many economic studies indicate that public investments in quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) will provide a rate of return that is significantly higher than any other public investment, dollar for dollar. Educators and researchers have learned in the last decade that the earlier we invest in children’s education, the better.
There are too many learning gaps for children from low socioeconomic homes exist when they enter school compared with children from middle-class homes. Currently, with federal funds, the county HeadStart Preschool Program serves only 50 percent of children that qualify for the services, based on a family income of $22,400 for a family of four. Data indicate that the Head Start Preschool Program provides the necessary skills for learners from low-income homes for future school success.
When children from lower socio-economic environments are placed in quality learning environments earlier than kindergarten—for pre-math, pre-literacy and important social skills—the learning gaps are significantly minimized when entering school. If children start out at a disadvantage in kindergarten, the data indicate it is difficult for these students to catch up.
If we as a community take the SJ/SV 2020 goal of ending the achievement gap seriously, we must create pathways for every child who is currently not in a quality preschool program—50 percent of low income children. This action will be a win-win for all, including employers and the local economy. The public investment of each $1 will save up to $4 dollars later. Therefore, this is a cost-effective goal we must realize to improve our economy while investing in our children.
The research indicates that if learning gaps are reduced to zero by kindergarten, high school graduation rates would increase markedly along with college/career readiness. Crime would also decrease and the need for federal and state assistance for families would be reduced.
This year, working with newly elected Santa Clara County Office of Education President Grace Mah and Trustee Darcie Green, as well as city and county leaders, we will launch a grassroots effort to secure quality preschool for all of the county’s 3 and 4 year olds. There is a roadmap to achieve the goal. In 1999-2000, People Acting In Community Together (PACT) and Working Partnerships USA leveraged Medi-Cal, Healthy Familes and Healthy Kids to establish health insurance coverge for 70,000 children in the county. We were the first region in the nation to accomplish this ambitious goal.
Working together with First Five, the SCCOE, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Local Early Education Planning Council of Santa Clara County, this goal of access to quality ECE for every child in the county can be accomplished.
If we can build a billion dollar stadium for the 49ers in record time, we can collaborate to ensure that all of our children start school with the foundational skills to learn and achieve at the highest of levels. Perhaps the first kickoff in the new Santa Clara stadium will commence at the same time quality preschool is provided to all young children in the county.
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, I am meeting with President Mah to begin the planning to realize this vital goal.
Go Niners. Beat Atlanta.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.