Fix schools from the start (copy)

Early childhood education is vital to later success. (AP photo)

I am writing to affirm and applaud Gov. Henry McMaster’s proposal to put $53 million toward full-day 4K programming across the state. This move is vital and as the article noted “takes statewide a program created in 2006 in response to a court order to improve early childhood education for impoverished students.”

Though I am pleased and proud of our governor’s ambitious agenda, it troubles me that we don’t already offer this for our most vulnerable citizens. That said, better late than never. And, while we are at it, let’s consider a broader stroke of the brush that would place South Carolina on the cutting edge of educational reform.

Based on the research on early childhood development, literacy and language acquisition, and mental health, we should consider free 4K for all children, not just those who live in poverty, and additional social workers, school nurses and speech therapists to support all young children and their families.

Although a landmark study claimed that young children who live in poverty come to school with a “30 million word gap” by age 4, the horrific numbers have been challenged. Perhaps these babies are only behind 5 million or 10 million words. Who’s counting? The gap is real and dangerous and difficult to overcome even with our best strategies and committed educators. It is going to take free 4K and everything else we can throw at it to make headway.

Moreover, through my work with teachers around the country I’ve seen another threat: The word and skill gap is emerging among young children from all social classes, as they are increasingly disconnected from high-quality play and literacy experiences and their caregivers and parents are overwhelmingly connected to electronic devices. We need good quality, universal 4K for every family.

As South Carolina becomes the home for increasing numbers of families, companies, organizations and institutions, access to and the ability to pay for excellent, brain-friendly child care is both a challenge and a priority. Public school 4K and vouchers for private programming to meet the needs of every family would position our state advantageously.

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In closing, I leave readers with this intuitive quote from my Italian cousin and fellow educator Maria Montessori: “Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and do not say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move. If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”

Let’s stop talking about substantive early childhood literacy and education programming and show the rest of the states how to do it right.

Linda Karges-Bone is a distinguished professor of education at Charleston Southern University and director of Education InSite, at educationinsite.com.