August 20, 2004

New study reinforces need for pre-kindergarten classes

By Marcela Carrera
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - Children who don’t receive a quality pre-kindergarten education are likely to engage in antisocial and delinquent behavior, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released the results of a poll that surveyed 800 kindergarten teachers nationwide. It found that 66 percent of teachers rated kids who attended pre-kindergarten as “substantially better prepared” for school, and nine out of 10 teachers agreed that “substantially more” children would succeed in school if all families had access to quality pre-kindergarten.

Mason-Dixon Polling and Research conducted the poll, whose margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

“We know that the best crime prevention is solid pre-kindergarten,” said Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

Kerlikowske cited a 22-year study of the High/Scope Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich. Children who did not attend the preschool program were five times more likely to become chronic lawbreakers by the time they reached adulthood, according to the study.

Sanford A. Newman found-ed Fight Crime in1996 and is its president. The group is a bipartisan anti-crime organization led by more than 2,000 law enforcement agents, prosecutors and victims of violence.

Newman said children without adequate pre-kindergarten education “are disruptive in class, and in a few years they will be disruptive in our community.”

A study released in 2001 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development noted that children who spend the most time in day care were likely to be more disruptive in school, even though they often had superior academic achievement.

Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for Fight Crime, acknowledged the study’s disturbing findings but said the quality of care was the central focus of that investigation, despite press reports at the time that highlighted the finding about disruptive behavior.

Newman said this new poll should be a wake-up call to parents and lawmakers. He called for increased funding to expand access to pre-kindergarten. Newman said that even Head Start, the principal federal pre-kindergarten program for lower-income families, is so underfunded it can serve only three out of five children below poverty lines.

“We all have a stake in making sure all kids have access to quality pre-K programs,” he said.

Patricia Reeves, a kindergarten teacher from Maryville, Tenn., for 28 years, said that she often sees students come into her class ill prepared. She said they have trouble interacting with the other children and paying attention, and they end up disrupting class.

“They may wind up being behind for their entire school career,” Reeves said. “Pre-K programs ensure that no child will be left behind.”

Edward Bieluch, Palm Beach County, Fla., sheriff said he agreed with Reeves.

“We need to invest in America’s most vulnerable kids so they never become America’s most wanted adults,” he said.

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