Mississippi faces a critical problem with children who arrive in kindergarten without the basic skills necessary for learning to take place. Many of these children arrive with no concept of a letter, a number or a shape; they do not understand that text conveys meaning. Many have no idea even how to hold a book.
In fact, a study of the children in Mississippi’s Reading First Schools showed that a full 60% of Mississippi children who entered those programs had vocabularies significantly below their age level, and many of them entered kindergarten with the vocabulary of a 1- or 2-year-old child.
Mississippi in 2014 began administering a kindergarten-readiness assessment to all entering public school kindergartners in the fall of each school year. In 2014 and 2015, two-thirds of Mississippi’s entering kindergarteners lacked the preschool early literacy skills that would put them on track for reading proficiency by third grade. The target score on the assessment is 530 at the beginning of the kindergarten year; the average score statewide was 501 in the fall of 2014 and 502 in the fall of 2015. During the kindergarten year, however, Mississippi’s students are making significant gains, moving from 502 in the fall of 2015 to a statewide average of 703 in the spring of 2016. The state average surpassed the kindergarten end-of-year target score of 681; 63 percent of individual students met or exceeded the target score.
In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature for the first time dedicated state funding to pre-kindergarten programs through the Early Learning Collaborative Act. Funding was recommended to be $8-million annually for three to five years, increasing to $16-million annually in the second phase and $34-million annually in the final phase. For the first three years of the program, the Legislature appropriated $3-million annually. In 2016-2017, that amount rose to $4-million, still far below the recommended funding level.
Mississippi is one of only seven states that meets all 10 of the benchmarks set by the National Institute for Early Education Research for minimum quality standards in state-funded pre-k programs. Research has shown that when children are provided high quality early childhood experiences they
• achieve higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21
• score higher in reading and math from the primary grades through young adulthood
• complete more years of education and are more likely to attend a four-year college
• are older, on average, when their first child is born
Source: The Abecedarian Project; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
For every dollar spent on participants in the Chicago Child Parent Centers, researchers claim that $10 is returned by age 25 either in benefits to society – such as savings on remediation in school and on the criminal-justice system – or directly to the participant, in the form of higher earnings. The Chicago Child Parent Centers, started in 1985, were created in the public schools of Chicago for low-income African American and Hispanic families with children from ages 3- to 9-years-old. Source: Education Week
In recent years, economists and business groups across the nation have begun to document the importance of early childhood education as an investment in economic development. For example, the Business Roundtable (representing America’s top 500 corporations), the Committee for Economic Development (a 60-year-old national business group), and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis have issued reports demonstrating that high-quality pre-k programs provide the best long-term investment for economic growth. In their words, the economic return “on investment from early childhood development is extraordinary.” Pre-k offers “greater potential returns and substantially less risk” than state subsidies and incentives that try to attract plant locations, company headquarters, office towers, entertainment centers or professional sports stadiums and arenas.
In Mississippi, three times as many children are retained in kindergarten and first grade as in later grades. In the 2007-2008 school year, the cost of kindergarten and first grade retention was over $28-million.
Studies show that children who are retained in school are exponentially more likely to drop out and that a child who is retained twice has only a 10% chance of graduating from high school.
In Mississippi, 71% of mothers with children under five years of age are in the work force, and many early childhood programs that care for these children while their parents work are purely custodial rather than educational.
The Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards call for reading fluency by the end of the kindergarten year. High quality early childhood education can help children develop the pre-literacy skills they will need to read fluently by the end of kindergarten.