Children who grow up in middle class and educated households tend to absorb more vocabulary than their less fortunate classmates in the first years of life. This often translates to middle-class kids doing better in the classroom later on; a phenomenon known as the "achievement gap".
Programs like Educare in Chicago seek to combat this gap by providing enriching education experiences for at risk children under the age of five. Educare spends much more money on students than the typical government preschool, and offers much more time in the classroom.
However, the large price tag for such comprehensive early education seems to pay off. Research shows that students who attend Educare for five years start kindergarten at the same level as their middle-class peers.
Like many other advocates for strengthening early childhood education, Barbara Bowman, Chief Early Childhood Education Officer for Chicago Public Schools believes that providing at-risk students with a supportive educational environment early on is the key to preventing them from falling behind and from getting into trouble with the law.
"The cost of school failure is enormous," she said, "It's prisons. It's unemployment. It's dissatisfaction in neighborhoods and communities. All of that is going to cost you and your kids money."
At Tuesday's State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed to work "with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America." But in order for this proposal to become a reality, the challenges facing the Chicago school system show that there will be large financial, transportation, and cultural hurdles to overcome.
"We spend about $18,000 to $20,000 per child per year. That seems like a lot of money, but when you do the return on investment, we believe it actually pays off," - Diana Rauner, Ounce of Prevention Fund.
1. Did you go to preschool or an early education program?
2. What is the "achievement gap"?
3. What factors outside of school might affect a student's academic performance?
1. Do you think that preschool as important part of education for the government to invest in? Why or why not?
2. Do early childhood education programs such as Educare exist in your community? If so did you or anyone you know attend these types of programs? If not, do you think these types of programs are needed in your community?
3. If you were the Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools how would you ensure that all of the children in the city had access to early childhood education?