In 2011, about 2,000 kids dropped out of Nebraska high schools. Also in 2011, a staggering 64% of Nebraska third graders weren’t reading at grade level. What do these two things have to do with each other? More and more research has found that the line that kids cross — or don’t cross — in third grade is critical to their future academic success.
Why? This is when kids make the switch from learning to read to reading to learn. Kids who fail to successfully make this transition are likely to continue to fall behind and ultimately less likely to graduate from high school.
What this suggest for our educational system is that many of the improvements we have tried to make are coming long after the time when they could have made the most difference. To keep kids from dropping out, we need to get them reading by third grade. And to get kids reading by third grade, we need to start teaching literacy skills before they start Kindergarten.
The years before a child starts school are critical to brain development and establish the foundation of a child’s ability to learn.
Last week, the Nebraska state legislature gave final approval to LB 507, a bill to establish a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for centers receiving large amounts of public funds and increase eligibility for child care assistance. This bill is an important step toward recognizing the importance of early learning, but there’s more that we can do as a state and a nation.
The President has proposed a new federal-state partnership to give all low-and-moderate income and more middle- income four-year-olds access to pre-K. This proposal count be a game-changer for Nebraska kids who are falling behind and help us to address our dismal statistics on the number of kids not reading by third grade.
The time has come to get serious about investing in early childhood education. The President’s proposal would require a significant investment, but it’s one that will pay off. Failing to invest in children during their early years has already cost too much — to our educational system, to our criminal justice system, and to the kids who will never reach their full potential.