If children are to succeed in school and life, it is essential that they arrive at school ready to learn. All children deserve that opportunity. Without the developmental experiences and cognitive and social-emotional skills required to take advantage of school, children are less likely to achieve their potential. Many will be put on a long-term negative life trajectory. The charge from the Missouri Coordinating Board for Early Childhood to the Panel on School Readiness – Focus on Pre-K frames the issue this way:
Research consistently demonstrates that early school success depends on children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. The extent to which young children participate in quality early education and child care programs, enjoy the support of nurturing families, and have access to health and social services impacts on their development, preparation for school, and later academic performance. These “conditions” are precursors to the school success of all children. Not all children have this foundation for school success, however, making their needs for supportive programs and services even more essential. If it is accepted that families, public officials, and educators want children to enter school prepared to succeed, the challenge for Missouri is to determine the best path to this goal.
With far too many children in the St. Louis region lacking a foundation for school success, the need is to put policies and programs in place to promote school readiness. Preschool and pre-kindergarten is another area of early childhood development in which the State of Missouri has lagged behind most other states. Illinois, until its recent budget difficulties, had been doing better in this arena. Establishing and maintaining quality early childhood school readiness programs for all families that would like to participate and could benefit from them will prove particularly challenging in the current economic climate and in the face of state budget shortfalls. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) provides detailed information and status reports on preschool efforts in Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas, in the individual state profiles that are included in their 2009 State Preschool Yearbook. Pre-K Now, the national campaign of the Pew Center for the States, provides information on pre-kindergarten investments in individual states for fiscal year 2011 in the report Leadership Matters.
In its report Getting Ready, the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative identifies five domains in which a child’s readiness for school should be measured:
- Physical well-being and motor development
- Social and emotional development
- Approaches to learning
- Language development
- Cognition and general knowledge
Those domains provide a framework for developing and assessing the effectiveness of state and local school readiness initiatives.
In addition to the efforts of the Missouri Coordinating Board for Early Childhood and it’s panel on school readiness and pre-kindergarten, the Pew Center for the States is supporting a Pre-K initiative in Missouri that is being carried out by the Missouri Coalition for School Readiness. The primary issue the project will address is expanding access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs in Missouri. Specific project activities include:
- Launching a public awareness and education campaign for Pre-K in 2010 to build support among lawmakers, educators, child care providers and business leaders
- Building statewide business leadership to support the school readiness/pre-k initiative
- Creating a 2011 legislative proposal that will move forward the Missouri Pre-K Panel’s 2008 recommendations regarding pre-k standards, implementation and accountability
- Building state legislative leadership support for early childhood issues
In the St. Louis area the issue of school readiness is being addressed by several initiatives. Mayor Francis Slay has made school readiness a focus of his work in conjunction with the National League of Cities. The Early Childhood Development Committee of the St. Louis Regional P-20 Council is examining a range of concerns related to school readiness that include establishing standards for early childhood programs, identifying developmental benchmarks for children, and aligning the components of the P-20 educational system. School readiness also will be a primary focus of the St. Louis Regional Council on Early Childhood that is in the process of being formed.