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PSU education experts applaud focus on early childhood

February 14, 2013 12:00AM

When President Obama included high-quality early childhood education for every child in his State of the Union Address, educators across the Pittsburg State University campus took notice.

“I was really excited to hear that part of the president’s speech,” said Marti York, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Leadership.

The president said he would work with states to make high-quality early education available to all children because, he said, it saves money later, boosts graduation rates and reduces teen pregnancy and violent crime.

“Let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” Obama said.

Amber Tankersley, an associate professor of early childhood development in PSU’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, said decades of research confirms the positive effects of good early childhood education.

“Research over the years has shown that children who have high-quality experiences before kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school, pursue post secondary education, get married, hold steady employment, and are less likely to repeat grades or be labeled as a delinquent,” said Tankersley, who is director for the PSU Early Childhood Preschool Lab.

Tankersley said the key is in defining what is “high-quality.”

“The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) helps define what high quality looks like and puts a stamp of high quality on programs that achieve NAEYC accreditation,” Tankersley said. “High quality programs have professionals who are trained and well compensated, stable staffing, smaller group sizes, attentive relationships between adults and children, safe/healthy environments, stimulating environments, family involvement, and utilize community resources.”

The PSU Preschool achieved NAEYC accreditation in 2012.

Alice Sagehorn, professor and chairperson of the Department of Teaching and Leadership, said the growing evidence supporting the importance of early childhood education was a motivating factor in the College of Education’s development of its birth through grade 3 licensure (Early Childhood Unified) program.

“Our Early Childhood Unified program specializes in just what President Obama called for in the State of the Union speech,” Sagehorn said.

Sagehorn said her department supports any effort to expand high-quality early childhood education because “children who come to kindergarten ready to learn have a better chance of being on or above grade level in all content areas.”

To support her claim, Sagehorn quoted research that indicated students need to learn 88,500 words to learn the academic content taught in grades 3-8.

“One of the best things parents can do to help their child be ready for school is to sit down, listen, and talk to the child and read to the child every day,” Sagehorn said. “Children who are read to and talked to before the age of 5 know as many as 10,000 more words than children who come from homes where there is no reading and no one sits down and talks with the child.”

Susan Knell, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Leadership and a reading specialist, said children who have good early education start out with a clear advantage.

“Most kindergarten teachers can easily tell the kids who have had good pre-school education,” Knell said.

President Obama took his message in support of universal access to high-quality early education on the road Thursday, where he visited a preschool in Atlanta.

©2013 Pittsburg State University

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