Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Early education - the key to overcoming the achievement gap



Braulio Braulio Colon, assistant director of ENLACE Florida, an organization created to get more under-represented student groups into college, is our guest blogger today. He focuses on the important role of education before kindergarten in narrowing the achievement gap. Here's what he has to say:

"In the U.S. today, one out of every three kindergarteners walking into a classroom for the very first time is unprepared to begin learning at grade level; for Hispanics and African Americans I suspect the ratio is much more daunting. Annually, this equates to millions launching their scholastic career already behind their peers and more than 200,000 students repeating kindergarten because they lack the pre-academic fundamentals required to engage in formal reading instruction (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2008).

Unfortunately, research demonstrates that this group is more likely to remain academically behind through middle school and is three to four times more likely to drop out of high school in later years. 

In this age of global competition, more and more jobs require some form of post-secondary education.  Given that dramatic increases in the Hispanic and African American student populations has increased to the extent that minority students already constitute a majority in many school districts and states, there is no greater long-term challenge facing our country today than that of eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring more minority children graduate from high school ready to pursue a postsecondary education.

Eliminating the achievement gap, the persistent disparity in educational achievement and attainment among groups of students, first requires universal consensus on its origin. The achievement gap does not originate in, nor is it produced by our K-12 public school system; rather, it's brought into the classrooms of our nation where it is then measured and studied, and where teachers are held accountable to how successful they are in closing it.

If America is going to effectively compete in the 21st century, we need to eliminate the gap before it ever reaches kindergarten. We should not wait to intervene and fix deficits in education. School districts, public libraries, community organizations, and education leaders should be actively involved in working with parents and their young children raising awareness of the importance of early literacy and increasing access to early learning opportunities.

In Hillsborough County, Florida, the community is doing exactly that.

In 2006, several local agencies came together in an effort to improve kindergarten readiness by increasing the number of age-appropriate books in the homes of young children and improving parental involvement in early education. The partnership includes organizations like the Hillsborough County Public Library Consortium, Children's Board of Hillsborough County, United Way of Tampa Bay , Head Start, Early Head Start, Healthy Start, U.S. Postal Service, School District of Hillsborough County, University of South Florida , and the Dollywood Foundation. Known as the Imagination Library of Hillsborough County, this program mails a new, age-appropriate book to young children every month until they turn five years of age.  In addition, the program offers workshops for parents, providing practical advice on how to read with their young children and how to transform day-to-day activities into early learning opportunities. 

Today, over 5,000 children are enrolled in the early literacy program with more parents signing up their children everyday. What is important to note here is this community's choice to recognize a problem, and proactively implement a comprehensive solution that should prove to be effective.

All major cities in the U.S. share the kindergarten readiness problem and therefore should mimic Hillsborough County's reaction to it — a reaction that does not duplicate services, but rather supplements state and federal attempts to service the pre-K population.

Investing in such programs designed to transform culture and enrich early learning within the homes of our young children, coupled with equitable access to high quality pre-K programs is the key to eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring that all children enter kindergarten prepared and ready to learn.

Educators and organizations focused on improving college readiness in our public school systems rarely focus on early literacy programs. However, evidence shows that the achievement gap exists in kindergarten, which means, from a policy perspective, that our efforts should concentrate on eliminating it at its inception, before the gap widens to the extent that it becomes irremediable. ENLACE FLORIDA, a statewide initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to promote college readiness, access, and success, believes that we must open a path to college to every student. That path can be opened to more students by promoting early literacy."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:50am]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours