There doesn't seem to be a shortage of debate topics in education today. Recent decisions by North Carolina's governor and state legislature have left our teachers without the benefit of tenure, pay raises, or monetary recognition for earning a graduate degree. On top of all that the legislature and governor are going to go one step further and make our teachers' jobs more difficult by failing to adequately fund early childhood education programs. This means that our teachers should expect the children of economically underprivileged parents to arrive at kindergarten even less prepared than they are today.
Early childhood programs can serve as force multipliers for many of our state's less than stellar school systems. In essence, they provide our youngest students with a fighting chance, which means that they will not be academically behind from the first day of school, and especially by the time they reach third grade. Why is early childhood education important? Simply because it allows kindergarten students to begin their formal schooling with the fundamentals that take time to master, i.e., properly holding a pencil, understanding the basics of coloring between the lines, recognizing the letters in the alphabet, and counting from one to one hundred.
A kindergarten teacher needs to have something to work with when her students arrive for the first day of class. If the teacher and her assistant must focus on non-academic issues, such as basic discipline, helping children in the bathroom, and showing them how to use scissors, there will be little or no time for the academic requirements of first grade. This, in turn, is why many of our students cannot read adequately by the time they leave third grade.
A great deal of research has clearly shown that early childhood education makes a significant difference in students' success - no less than parents who read to their children, talk to them at suppertime, and take them to museums and zoos as part of the family's recreational trips. However, we really don't need research to help make the case for early childhood programs. It comes down to common sense. A child who is adequately prepared for kindergarten is more likely to succeed in school. Early childhood education is an investment in both the child's future as well as North Carolina's future. In essence, we can pay now or pay later.