First, I want to applaud the DJUSD School Board for prioritizing the achievement gap at their last meeting. But the achievement gap is a vexing problem that exists statewide and beyond. It is more pronounced here only because of our huge core of high achieving students.
As yesterday’s article illustrates, which pulled from board member statements going back to Susan Lovenburg in the 2007 election, it is not for lack of awareness or lack of attention that the achievement gap has not been addressed.
Instead, the problem is that the achievement gap is not itself a problem but rather a symptom of many problems. Without getting to the core issue, we are simply spinning our wheels.
I believe that the problem starts before a student ever enters kindergarten. The problem starts with access to preschool. Unlike some districts, DJUSD does not have universal preschool.
Here is a perfect illustration of the problem. On September 11, the district sent out a press release that Davis is opening a new preschool program at Valley Oak. It will provide “two programs to ensure a smooth transition to transitional kindergarten or kindergarten for students ages 3 to 5.” The preschool goes from 7:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday. However, the fee is $800 per month.
Who can afford $800 per month? Well, a lot of people can. But for us to afford $800 a month, even on a middle class income, we would have to get some help from relatives to do so. Drop the income lower, and many people have no way to afford that kind of program.
So if you are a low income family living in Davis, what are your options for preschool? We were lucky that we were able to get our kids into Head Start, but Head Start is heavily impacted and does not have near enough spots for every low income and at-risk child in the city or county.
Our nephew is a good example of what would happen without programs available. Because he was at-risk, we were able to, with the persistence of my wife, get him into Head Start, half day at Montgomery last year. At that point he was diagnosed with a speech delay issue, and received services through the school district.
This year, in addition to Head Start, he was able to qualify for a free half-day program at Valley Oak. Next year, he will be able to go to Head Start and Transitional Kindergarten. And the hope is that he will be on grade-level in two years when he starts Kindergarten.
For us, the system worked. But for many other parents in similar situations, they may not have the ability to gain access to those resources – or the resources may not be available.
For hundreds and probably thousands of low income families, preschool may be out of reach, and their kids start out behind and never catch up.
Sacramento Assemblymember Kevin McCarty is sponsoring legislation that sits on Governor Brown’s desk, AB 47, The Preschool For All Act of 2015. “AB 47 ensures that all eligible low-income 4-year-old children who aren’t enrolled in transitional kindergarten shall have access to the California State Preschool Program, contingent upon funding in the state budget.”
The funding issue is a little tricky. As the Sac Bee pointed out last week, “It doesn’t go all the way, though. AB 47, also known as the Preschool for All Act, doesn’t quite live up to its name because it doesn’t carve out an annual budget appropriation. Instead, lawmakers would have to approve funding for it each year – a compromise meant to address concerns about the low hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to fund such a comprehensive preschool plan. Such is politics.”
However, “What the legislation does do is create an annual framework for making preschool funding a priority.”
According to the Bee, right now there are 32,000 low income children who cannot afford preschool. The Bee writes, “This is true even though California has spent millions of dollars in recent years to undo recession-era cuts and boost enrollment in the State Preschool Program. With this year’s appropriation, about 158,000 poor kids have access to preschool.”
They add, “That’s a big number, but tens of thousands of children remain left out. The research is clear about the benefits of preschool, to the students and society at large.”
This is the key. “Studies show that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs are more likely than their counterparts to succeed in school and graduate from high school on time. As teenagers and adults, they are less likely to commit crimes.”
“This is especially true for children from low-income families, where parents often have lower levels of educational attainment, and are less likely to have the time or resources to properly nurture the cognitive development of their kids in the crucial first five years of life,” the Bee writes. “This achievement gap between rich and poor students is already evident.”
We should study the issue of the achievement gap. How does access to preschool impact the achievement gap?
This isn’t a one-size fits all solution of course. Back in 2007 when Jim Provenza was a school board member, he showed me data that showed even among kids of college-educated parents, there is a statistically significant gap between whites and Asians versus blacks and Hispanics. That means the full gap will not be closed with universal preschool.
But for those kids who cannot afford preschool, they almost certainly are starting out behind and most will never catch up.
—David M. Greenwald reporting