Early Childhood Education Facts at a Glance
Early Brain Development
At birth, a child's brain is already 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. As the brain grows, it forms long, thin fiber synapses, or connections, at the incredible rate of three billion per second. These synapses grow in response to all experiences and connect the brain cells, thus forming a child's neurological foundation. During the first three years, a child's brain reaches 90 percent of its adult size.
After the age of three, the production of neuronal connection continues at a slower rate until age ten. During the first decade of life, the child's brain is more than twice as active as that of an adult. After the age of ten, many of the synapses that have been activated and used remain, while those that have not been used disappear.
Without adequate support, children can fall far behind in their academic and social skills before they even reach kindergarten. These early gaps tend to widen rather than close over time.
As many as 40 percent of kindergarten students come to school already below grade level in reading and math.
A recent survey of more than 7,000 teachers found that 35 percent of students were considered not ready to successfully participate in kindergarten, ranging from 23 percent in North Carolina to 47 percent in Hawaii.
Studies show that differences in children's cognitive, language, and social skills upon entry to kindergarten can be attributed to family poverty status, parents' educational levels and/or ethnic backgrounds, and children's health and living environments. The most promising strategy for supporting readiness is to increase access to high-quality early childhood education.
Benefits of Early Childhood Education
Research demonstrates that high-quality preschool education can substantially increase a child's chances of succeeding in school and in life. Children who attend high-quality kindergarten programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education, and more likely to graduate high school. They are less involved in crime and delinquency. They also earn more as adults and are less likely to become dependent on welfare.
Several studies, including those conducted at Perry Pre-School in Michigan, the Abecedarian Project in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, have documented the value of high-quality programs for disadvantaged children.
Reports show large gaps in pre-reading and pre-math skills among children from poor, middle-class, and affluent families when they don't attend preschool and smaller gaps when they do.
A child's ability to learn can increase or decrease by 25 percent or more depending on whether he or she grows up in a stimulating environment.
State Prekindergarten Programs and Funding
Before 1980, only seven states funded any kind of preschool programs. Today, 38 states have state-funded prekindergarten programs.
States with universal prekindergarten programs include: Georgia (1995), New York (1997), Oklahoma (1998), Florida (2005), Massachusetts (full program in place by 2012). New Jersey (1998) provides universal prekindergarten in specific districts, covering about 31 communities. Many other states fund prekindergarten programs based on family income or only for "at-risk" students.
State spending per child rose in 2007 to $3,642 on average. Total spending by state governments reached an all-time high in 2007 of more than $3.7 billion on pre-K initiatives.
In 2006-2007, states spent $3.72 billion on preschool initiatives, an increase of $467 million (without adjusting for inflation) or 14 percent from the previous year. State pre-K spending ranged from just more than $3 million in Nevada, a state with about 72,000 three and four year olds, to $533 million in Texas, which has about 758,000 three and four year olds.
Due to an increase in enrollment among 30 of the 38 states with pre-K programs, it is estimated that 22 percent of all four year olds in the nation attended state-funded pre-K programs in 2006-2007, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. Access for three year olds also rose, perhaps signaling a new trend toward exanding services for this age group as well.
The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that full-day kindergarten enrollment rose from 28 percent of the country's children in 1977 to 68 percent in 2004 and continues to grow. The needs of parents play a part as well, especially in households where full-time workers juggle young children's half-day schedules.