In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address (SOTU), one proposal he gave was to give every four-year-old access to high-quality preschool education.
Of course, experts disagree with each other on the importance of preschool, and whether it’s a necessity or a nice to have. However, the cumulative statistics and findings from over a hundred studies suggest that preschool benefits are real and persist into regular school years and beyond, in many ways, and that the entire country can benefit long-term, financially and socially, from an investment in preschool education. Yet as of 2010, only 14% of public education dollars were being spent on pre-five-year-old children — a time when brain growth leads to as much as 90% of adult brain size.
Some Stats on Childcare and Preschool
From 1995 to 2012, the percentage of American children aged 3-6 who were not yet in kindergarten but were in center-based care rose by only 5% (for all family characteristics and regions). Here are the overall average percentages for select years.
- 1995: 55.0%
- 2001: 56.3%
- 2005: 57.1%
- 2007: 55.3%
- 2012: 61.0%
When broken down by “Race and Hispanic origin,” the Hispanic group (all origins) had the lowest percentage in all years. By wealth category, the “200% poverty and above” group (i.e., wealthiest) not surprisingly had the highest enrollment in all years. As well, enrollment across all years was highest amongst the group where the mother had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and in the two groups where the mother was working (35+ hours/week and under 35 hours/week). See the childstats.gov link in the References section for more information.
More specifically, according to U.S. Census Bureau SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) data, there were about 20.4M children in the U.S. under the age of 5 in 2011. Of those, 61% (12.5M) “were in some type of regular children care arrangement” — which includes relatives and non-relative care (organized and other). This means nearly 39% (38.7%; 7.9M) of under-5 children had no regular child care arrangement, including parents and other family.
The Benefits of Preschool
A recent Clinton Foundation report published statistics from the Brookings Institute that hints at the benefits of any kind of early childhood education. The report indicates that of children born in 2001, “only 48 percent of poor children started school ready to learn, compared to 75 percent of children from middle-income families.”
What’s more, there is now a deviation from the 1960s/70s of the amount of time parents of different economic status spend reading to their children. Between 2010-2012, parents with higher education spent as much as an extra 30 minutes daily reading to their children — which adds up significantly by the time the kids enter kindergarten.
This means that by age four, “children in professional families had heard an average of 30 million more words addressed to them than children in families on welfare, and 15 million more words than working-class families.” Typically, this means an increased vocabulary and even a love of reading, both of which improve the chances of academic success.
Preschool- and Kindergarten-Age Benefits
- Fulfill curiosity — something that is common in children as young as three years old, and which if fulfilled early can be sustained in later years, positively impacting academic performance.
- Early learning positively affects brain structure.
- Builds a desire to learn well past preschool age.
- Additional daily or semi-daily physical activity that might not happen at home.
- Headstart in emotional development. Getting praise early in life for accomplishments builds positive self-worth which can pay off academically.
- Headstart in social development. Manners and social protocols are learned through incidents, with an adult “correcting” behavior when necessary. Preschool gives children an early outlet to learn appropriate social behaviors and develop more effective interaction skills.
- Building of trust in other children and adults.
- Learning discipline and structure, balanced with fun.
- Encouragement of scribbling can lead to early learning of writing, which has the obvious academic benefits.
- Early introduction to letters and numbers improves foundational reading and math skills, respectively, both of which affect later academic success.
- Early introduction to math means time to absorb and understand by the time kindergarten comes around.
- Improved self-esteem.
- Readiness for kindergarten, etc.
- Improved scores in achievement tests.
- Less likely to be sad or unhappy, which can happen to children as young as three years, and which can then persist in near-future years.
- Confidence from familiarity, since at present, kindergarten curriculum may significantly overlap preschool activities.
- Become better readers
- Early successes in kindergarten and beyond. High-quality preschool education has been show to benefit both middle-income and low-income families, as well as improve overall academic achievement.
- Less likely to commit a felony.
- Less likely to drop out of high school
- Less likely to need government assistance.
- More likely to go to college, and thus more likely to earn more in a lifetime.
- More likely to own a house.
As a result of even a $2-$4 return per dollar invested in preschool programs available for all children, the ROI for each year’s preschool cohort is as much as $150B over their cumulative lifetimes. The Institute for a Competitive Workforce estimated in 2010 that each dollar spent [in high-quality preschool programs] could actually return $2.50-$17, which means a potential trillion-plus return per each year’s preschool cohort. Furthermore, 25% of at-risk children are more likely to drop out of high school if they do not get a quality preschool education, according to the Ounce of Prevention Fund. They’re also 40% more likely to be a teen parent, 60% more likely not to go to college, and 70% more likely to be arrested for committing a violent crime.
It’s estimated that about 75% of families making $75K yearly and who have 3-4 year olds already have them enrolled in preschool, although that emphasizes a gap based mostly on economic status, which appears to cost the country collectively over time. The President’s proposal is hopefully a step in the right direction, as the current costs of preschool averages nearly $4K/year, and in some places such as New York City, it can cost as much as $40K per year.
The present alternatives to expensive preschool: structured home equivalent, church-run programs, or cooperative preschools where parents participate as part-owner.
Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites: