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Barbara P. Tytell: We must invest to close income achievement gap

To the editor:

We have been bombarded with dire warnings about falling over fiscal cliffs, soaring budget deficits, falling into cracks and watching achievement gaps widen. It’s time to take a deep breath and address pressing issues facing individuals, families and children.

Children need a safe and secure physical environment and opportunities to learn and grow intellectually. Research has shown that children from families with a low socio-economic status face challenges that middle class children do not. Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University says that as the income gap has widened, so has the achievement gap. This has been happening since the 1970’s. Poor children are less prepared to learn than their middle class peers when they enter kindergarten. According to research, poor children have lower scores on standard math and reading assessments and don’t usually catch up.

A study funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 70 percent of children who don’t graduate from high school are poor. High school dropouts are unprepared to enter the work force and the resulting economic and social costs are enormous.

Students who are poor are more likely to require special education services, display behavior problems and have delinquent, and in some cases criminal behavior.

Funding programs that support high-quality early childhood education, and expanding access to these programs for low-income families, can help to narrow the income achievement gap. Research has shown that the first five years of a child’s life are a critical time for intervention. The earlier the intervention, the more long-lasting the benefit in academic achievement.

In his State of the Union message this January, President Obama proposed to create state and federal partnerships to provide high quality preschool to every child in America, with program available for children from birth to age five. Current programs, such as Head Start, help young children, but some studies show the positive effects fade.

The president’s “Zero to Five” program would begin support earlier and continue it for children and families through preschool. This would create a continuum of care for all children, targeting those whose families are at or below 200 percent of poverty level.

Let’s make an investment in our country’s future by supporting programs that raise the quality of childcare and early childhood education and keep our children healthy, safe, and well-prepared to achieve. The welfare of our children should not be a partisan issue.

Barbara P. Tytell

Northampton

Barbara P Tytell is a social worker in the Westfield public schools

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