Center for American Progress

Anshul Barnwal | Dartmouth College

American education is rife with inequality. High schools have vastly different testly results dependent on income strata, and numerous statistics show that America is very much divided on racial and class lines when it comes to education. While much progress on the high school level has been made (schools have adopted effective measures, parents have started to conduct learning-conducive activities at home, etc.) all of these changes are unfortunately ineffective insofar as inequality beleaguers children at perhaps their most crucial stage of development: preschool.

Psychology studies show that the most important traits for succeeding in a classroom-- discipline, curiosity, and a willingness to follow authority, among others-- are cultivated at an extraordinarily young age, less than six years old. Preschool has numerous advantages. For one, simply learning at least precursors to actual numerical and alphabetical systems is a tremendous help and increases reading comprehension, which tends to predict future success in writing and english fairly accurately. Children are also exposed to structured learning environments with the central authority of a teacher, thus allowing them to be more behaved and attentive in class later on.

Some critics claim that any deficiencies in preschool can be alleviated and fixed by later education. Unfortunately, perhaps the most crucial developmental stage for children, those first years lay the foundation for a personality and curiosity that are extremely significant in future development. The Perry Preschool Study, perhaps the most comprehensive study on preschool  in history, found that those who attended preschool had higher earnings, committed fewer crimes; were more likely to hold a job, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have a preschool education. The sample controlled for effects such as income, school, and household, and still found a high statistical significance, which only confirms what psychologists say about early development being crucial.

Unfortunately, many Americans lack access to quality preschools. As much as 60% of 4-year-olds attend no preschool at all, and even more attend low-quality programs. Furthermore, most of those children are either low-income or racial minorities, which only serves to exacerbate income inequality long-term. While this problem exists in many countries, it is particularly pronounced in the United States, and, partially as a result, the United States lags behind many other countries in educational attainment.

Oftentimes, the most significant problems are the most subtle.  When children enter kindergarten a year behind their classmates, they lack the foundation for learning and are forced to play a continuous role of catch-up to the rest of their peers. No child chooses what situation they are born into, and all deserve the same opportunity to succeed.

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