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Keeping kids from being left behind by kindergarten

January 7, 2012
Salem News

Kindergarten really isn't the beginning of a youngster's education. Children begin learning from birth, at home and through avenues other than formal education.

That means some are better prepared than others to begin school. Those who enter kindergarten and first grade without adequate preparation too often fall behind classmates and never catch up.

During the past decade or so, educators have come to understand their work needs to begin before kindergarten, sometimes as early as age 3 in pre-school programs. Ohio has a reasonably widespread network of such facilities, certified by the state Department of Education.

But state officials, encouraged by the private sector, want to do better. As a result, the state applied for and is to receive a $70 million federal grant to improve programs that prepare children for kindergarten.

The money will come from the gigantic, bureaucratic "Race to the Top" initiative in Washington.

Critics of Race to the Top have pointed out - accurately - that in some respects it is less a campaign to encourage innovation than one to reward the existing education establishment. But Ohio's "pre-K" proposal is an excellent one.

The idea behind Ohio's grant proposal is to improve the quality of pre-school offerings and to develop better methods of evaluating whether children are ready for kindergarten. That could allow educators to better target pre-K programs to children who need them most.

Another goal is to expand the number of pre-K programs and make them more accessible to parents. The numbers make the need for such an initiative clear: By one estimate, only about 12,000 Buckeye State children are enrolled in pre-K programs.

Too many Ohio children are "left behind" before they ever enroll in kindergarten or first grade. Changing that, with or without federal grant help, should be a priority.



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