Results of the economic research on the value of quality preschool programs are compelling, but it's hard to beat a heart-warming, first-person account of how lives are changed by early childhood education.
Barbara Roberts, Title I preschool instructional coach for Fort Wayne Community Schools, shared this one with the Literacy Alliance, which sponsored the Family Literacy Program at Adams Elementary School. (Full disclosure: I'm a board member for The Literacy Alliance, a Fort Wayne nonprofit agency supporting adult and family literacy)
Roberts was the pre-K teacher at Adams at one time and co-taught a parenting class. She recently received a high school graduation announcement from one of her former students. He and his mother participated in the Family Literacy Program, through which his mother earned her GED; later earning a CNA credential. Treveon just graduated from Selma High School in Selma, Ala., and is headed to Alabama State University to study business.
He called Roberts on a recent visit to Fort Wayne to thank her for a graduation gift she sent.
"His mom got on the phone and told me that I was the most influential person in their lives!" Roberts wrote. "She said that Treveon is a fine young man who has never gotten into any trouble and is so polite to everyone, in addition to doing well in school. They remembered all of the songs and stories from pre-K, even an unfortunate incident when Treveon accidentally wandered into the storage garage and got locked in briefly!"
Roberts note was to thank The Literacy Alliance for its continuing efforts in family literacy, but her message speaks volumes about the power of early childhood learning.
The preschool payoff, unfortunately, doesn't come in the neat window of a four-year political term. Politicians prefer quick, popular approaches like vouchers and charters, where it's not necessary to show long-term results. Sometimes it takes years to see that an investment in early learning yields rich rewards, as it has with just one of the many families Barb Roberts has influenced over the years.
The quick pay-off explanation is the best to explain Indiana's nonexistent support for early learning. Not surprisingly, the state is not applying for a share of the $500 million in new Race to the Top grants designed to promote quality early childhood programs. Our state leaders would prefer to ignore both the economic research and the anecdotal evidence from preschool champions like Barb Roberts.