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Guest Editorial

PK-3 expands educational opportunities for Chicano-Latino children

Washington's Chicano-Latino population grew by more than 50 percent between 1990 and 2000. With this growth comes an obligation to provide the children in these Chicano-Latino families with the best possible education in order to ensure success in school and in life.

That is why expanding and improving the quality of early education for Washington's rapidly growing Chicano-Latino population should be among our highest educational priorities. One way to give our children the best possible start is to provide them with greater opportunities in the early childhood years through the PK-3 approach.

What is PK-3?

PK-3 programs raise achievement among children by offering quality, early education programs that align the curriculum and instruction for children from pre-kindergarten through the third grade. Research has shown that the PK-3 years are crucial to providing the foundation for life-long learning. Aligning the curriculum and instruction for children from pre-kindergarten through the third grade contributes substantially to higher levels of school readiness and achievement.

PK-3 is especially important for Chicano-Latino children.

Studies have shown that Chicano-Latino children lag well behind their White counterparts on measures of school readiness when they start kindergarten and subsequently achieve at much lower levels in the primary grades. This pattern of lower academic achievement persists through high school and college.

In the short term, school districts that use the PK-3 approach will experience reduced special education and grade retention costs. In the long term, we will see decreased dropout rates, savings to the juvenile and adult justice systems, and increased earnings from participants.

Moreover, increased investments in PK-3 programs, which are proven to prepare our young children for school success, also strengthen the state's economy. Better education equals better jobs and a stronger local economy.

The good news is that the PK-3 approach is gaining strong support. A recent report by the National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics echoed the need to provide these services to the growing Chicano-Latino populations.

Today, Chicano-Latinos constitute one-fifth of the nation's young children (infants through eight-years-old) and are projected to be a quarter of all young children in the United States by 2030. In 24 states, at least one in eight children in the 0-8 age group is Chicano-Latino.

While PK-3 programs raise achievement among Chicano-Latino children and provide better educational opportunities in the early childhood years, there is an inadequate capacity to meet demand in many Chicano-Latino communities. Other problems exist, such as a lack of knowledge about program availability among Chicano-Latino parents and the inability to afford pre-kindergarten.

Studies show that PK-3 programs can improve the literacy and math skills of all children, and especially English language learners and low-income children. PK-3 strengthens children's skills to help them succeed. The PK-3 approach creates the continuity in teaching and curriculum that makes it more successful for Chicano-Latino children to learn English. We must also encourage Chicano-Latino college students to choose PK-3 education as a career. We must do our best to improve access to programs for Chicano-Latino children by providing better information to parents and assisting them in locating programs in their neighborhoods.

We need to ensure that all children have greater access to high quality, early learning programs like PK-3. Greater opportunity needs to exist for Chicano-Latino children from low income families, especially those who are English language learners. We must also continue to expand state-funded pre-kindergarten programs with the objective of creating voluntary universal pre-kindergarten and eventually move to a PK-3 curriculum.

To maintain a strong economy and become competitive internationally, we need to prepare all of Washington's children to participate fully in today's society. A PK-3 education is the right place to start.

Dorry Elias-Garcia is executive director of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition.

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