Preschool is a key to boosting graduation rates
By Charles Weis
Special to the Mercury News, 6/26/09
This month, the graduating class of 2009 accepted their high school diplomas
at commencement ceremonies across the county. Unfortunately, too many youths
missed out on this milestone: The California Department of Education recently
reported that 1 in 5 high school students drops out.
The good news is that we know how to put our kids — and with them, our
families, communities and economy — on the path to success. A new report by the
RAND Corp. underscores what I have seen in almost four decades of working in
education: We must start early.
The report finds the achievement gap is evident well before kindergarten.
High-quality early childhood education exposes kids to experiences that can help
close the gap by developing important social skills, such as making friends and
showing persistence in finishing tasks, as well as building critical
pre-literacy and pre-math skills.
Without this foundation, many children find it hard to catch up. The RAND
report finds that children who start out behind tend to stay behind, and the
children who could benefit most —Latinos, African-Americans, English learners
and low-income children — are the least likely to be in preschool. Only about
half of low-income children are in preschool compared with 80 percent of
children whose parents make more than $100,000.
The report cites rigorous evaluations that show high-quality early childhood
programs can increase high school graduation rates significantly. They can also
raise performance on academic achievement tests and reduce special education and
As a commissioner on the county's Juvenile Justice Systems Collaborative, I
know we must also start looking to preschool as a crime-prevention strategy that
reinforces respect and responsibility for others, teaches how to resolve
conflicts and reduces behavior problems that can spiral out of control.
We should also heed economists who have found that getting things right at
first is easier and costs less than trying to fix them later. My work on the
board of Joint Venture Silicon Valley has shown me that nothing is more critical
to long-term economic growth than a well-educated local workforce.
Unfortunately, the RAND report concludes that California's early care and
education system is complex, fragmented and not set up to provide high-quality
programs to the kids who need it most. But we can change this. The
recommendations confirm the policy path California is taking and provide
guidance for building a stronger, more efficient system.
At the Santa Clara County Office of Education, we are strongly committed to
making high-quality preschool available to all parents who want it for their
children. We recently launched an initiative to develop a master plan for that
The office provides Head Start services to more than 2,000 preschool children
in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, through federal funding. We also support
First 5 Santa Clara County's "Power of Preschool" program, which helps children
in the San Jose Unified, Alum Rock, Franklin McKinley, Gilroy Unified and Morgan
Hill Unified school districts.
Working together, we can ensure more children have the opportunity to receive
the strong start early childhood education provides. If we want our graduates to
meet the demands of the global economy, we must support the next generation of
innovators coming into our public education system.
Charles Weis is the Santa Clara County superintendent of schools and
president-elect of the Association of California School Administrators.
Date last updated: June 27, 2009