Opinion

Want to close the achievement gap? Start quality education well before children are 5 years old

If children know their colors, shapes, numbers and letters, are they all set to succeed?

The reality is there is so much more we must do to set our earliest learners up for success.

Robyn Tedder is a facilitator with the Rollins Center where she supports Birth to Pre-K teachers. She has been an advocate of early childhood education in Atlanta since she arrived six years ago as a Teach For America corps member and kindergarten teacher in Atlanta Public Schools.

Robyn Tedder is a facilitator with the Rollins Center where she supports Birth to Pre-K teachers. She has been an advocate of early childhood education in Atlanta since she arrived six years ago as a Teach For America corps member and kindergarten teacher in Atlanta Public Schools.

A child’s brain doubles in size in the first year, and by age three has reached 80 percent of its adult volume in size. This development makes the time from conception to age 5 one of the most critical phases in a child’s life. With that amount of growth and development, children need much more than just memorization of letters, colors and numbers. We now know that an emphasis on vocabulary and the conversations adults have with children are some the most significant tools we can use to help children achieve during their first years of life.

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As we continue to explore the ways to improve education around the country, much discussion is taking place to find ways to solve a major crisis of our time.

Young children growing up in poverty often hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent counterparts, contributing to an opportunity gap that grows as children continue through school. According to a recent report from The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, only 10 percent of fourth grade African American males from low income households can read at or above grade level, along with 14 percent and 25 percent of their low-income Hispanic and white peers, respectively.

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What will it take to break the cycle of generational lack of access to quality education and resulting poverty, and improve the lives of so many deserving children?

Community members, education, government and business leaders are pointing to an answer you won’t find in a boardroom – but rather in early childhood classrooms. Such high-quality environments to develop children’s language, critical thinking and social skills may be the solution to our nation’s opportunity gap. According to researchers, by age 40, adults who attended a high quality early childhood program performed better in school, committed fewer crimes and made higher earnings.

Right here in Georgia, organizations like the Georgia Early Education Alliance For Ready Students (GEEARS) and the Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language & Literacy are helping students from wide-ranging backgrounds and educational experiences achieve by providing educators with tools to promote literacy and language development, the most critical component need to close the opportunity gap. GEEARS, along with several other partners including the Atlanta Speech School, have committed to the 2020 goal that all Georgia students will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed and on a path to read to learn by third grade.

Related: The power of preschool done right

The 2020 goal is becoming a reality for educators with resources like the Rollins Center’s Read Right from the Start program and online Cox Campus, educators are now able to access free professional development that prioritizes the importance of language and vocabulary development for children birth to third grade.

The online courseware is a self-guided tool providing any educator with access to interactive media, classroom resources, video sample lessons, and online literacy coaching from the Rollins Center’s 26 expert facilitators. All the strategies are centered on the best research-based literacy and language practices, and studies show they’re making a difference.

Many organizations are coming to Atlanta to learn more about the approach that is laying a strong foundation for literacy in Georgia. Teach for America recently held its Early Childhood Education Initiative summit in the city. Forty-five early childhood educators from 23 regions will visit the Rollins Center’s demonstration site – Drew Charter School’s Cox Pre-K Program – to learn more about the rich vocabulary and literacy experiences which help children achieve outcomes that close the literacy and language gap.

More and more teachers are making the promise to provide their students with a language-rich learning environment that they know will have a lasting impact beyond their preschool and pre-kindergarten years. The promise to do more than ask children to recite their letters, colors and numbers is one that we all must make.

Robyn Tedder is a facilitator with the Rollins Center where she supports Birth to Pre-K teachers. She has been an advocate of early childhood education in Atlanta since she arrived six years ago as a Teach For America corps member and kindergarten teacher in Atlanta Public Schools.

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