BALOG COLUMN: Numbers show effectiveness of early childhood learning
For a change, South Carolina is in the middle of the pack, about average, by one measure anyway.
About 46 percent of our 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in kindergarten, according to the annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Or to put it the way the report does, 54 percent are not enrolled, based on 2008-2010 figures, the latest data available.
That’s an improvement from 2005, when 59 percent were not enrolled. And it places us squarely in the middle, tied with Michigan and Ohio. Better than Nevada, where 71 percent of children in that age group are not enrolled in preschool, but not as good as New Jersey, where only 36 percent were not enrolled.
Of course, in overall child wellbeing, we rank 43rd in the nation. Not exactly a number to which anyone would aspire. That’s based on a whole range of factors — child poverty, health insurance, teen alcohol and drug abuse and more.
But one thing stands out: If a child starts learning and literacy immersion early, it helps combat and offset all those other factors.
A private approach
Meeting Street Academy, which celebrated the move to its new building on Monday with visits from the governor and the state education superintendent, among others, started by enrolling 3- and 4-year-olds. Now those students are third-graders — high achieving third-graders, according to Chief Operating Officer Susan Miller.
The all-day program, which also includes an optional after-school component, immerses students in academics, as well as social and emotional development. “We have very high expectations with where they’re going to be academically,” Miller says of the preschool students.
And it’s paying off. Those students test above the national norm, and they’re approaching the same scores that independent and suburban public school students achieve. So they’re definitely doing something right.
Now, as the governor said, if every school were like Meeting Street Academy, the state likely would be at the top of educational rankings. But not every school can be backed by generous benefactors like Ben Navarro. His and others’ commitments to the school mean parents pay only $2 a day in tuition, plus $1 for after-school programs, even though the student education cost is $12,500 each.
Parents also are required to spend 10 hours at the school each school year. It’s a holistic approach.
A public goal
Charleston County public schools have about 3,000 kindergartners, but only about 1,900 preschool students, according to Dr. Lerah Lee, the executive director of the Early Learning Community for Charleston County School District.
One of the district’s Vision 2016 goals is to make sure they serve all eligible preschoolers, Lee said.
“It’s so much better to pay now, to invest in our children now,” Lee said. “By the time they get to elementary school we will have properly intervened to ensure their success.”
Clearly early literacy efforts are essential for success.
Maybe it’s time to look at universal preschool, or at least better state support for early learning.
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at email@example.com.