Forget College - Go to Preschool

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of The Tower_, the official newspaper of The Bishop’s School._

Americans are no strangers to politicians overlooking flaws in The System. Among these forgotten issues is the lack of funding for preschool programs in America.

In contrast to what our schools seem to focus on, early education has a much greater influence on future success than later learning. To see why, let’s look at the state of our growing generation.

Under today’s system, as soon as public schooling begins (with kindergarten), children from disadvantaged backgrounds already begin to fall behind in their education, in comparison to their luckier peers, who spent the last few years being nurtured in basic skills and understanding of the world in preschool. Early learning in preschool provides an important and straightforward start to math, science, English, and art education.

And kids without a preschool education never catch up. They continue struggling with fundamental literacy and math in elementary school, while the rest push forward and capture more information and opportunities. This early disparity persists through the rest of the K—12 system and beyond, especially as these kids are ultimately split into separate groups in the college application process. The preschool-lacking, under-performing kids find themselves with poor or no college options, while the remainder anxiously await and excitedly celebrate Ivy Day.

This learning disadvantage takes a noticeable toll on the later lives of children who did not attend preschool. Researchers demonstrate just how large the effect is in the 2011 paper “School-Based Early Childhood Education and Age-28 Well-Being,” published in Science. Tracking kids from preschool to the age of 28, the team of scientists discovered that those who went to preschool were 24% more likely to go to college and had a 28% less chance of being imprisoned or developing alcohol/drug addictions.

These numbers don’t lie. Thankfully, the solution here is simple: extend public schooling programs to the preschool years, so that everyone gets an equal and positive advantage.

Naturally, one concern is where the money for this will come from — after all, taxpayers are already footing a large bill. But unfortunately, there is a bigger problem: the current school system is woefully ineffective. In fact, it misses the entire point of learning. For instance, here is my own experience of the American K-12 educational system:

We have all accepted this system as the status quo — but it is tragically flawed. Very little learning actually takes place: K—2 teaches the basics, then 10—11 confers real material to students.

In the interim, three entire years are dedicated simply to transitioning to the next lifestyle, be that middle or high school — with no meaningful learning in the meantime. Of the entire 13 year experience, we have yet to discuss 3rd—5th and 7th—8th grades — in my experience, those have focused on very simple, inapplicable material that is promptly discarded as soon as summer rolls around.

If we are only providing five years of sustained, rigorous education, then why are we keeping mature, young adults in school and away from the real world? Let’s remove the 12th grade — the last useful year, after all, appears to be 11th grade. Students have no need to thaw for an entire year of inactivity before experiencing the real world for themselves.

An even more pertinent concern lies with what this educational process attempts to prepare students for — college. In putting our students through this elaborate pre-collegiate operation, we are making a dangerous assumption: that college is the right choice for everyone.

Our society confirms this belief, since the college path is heavily advertised; we regard those who opt for an alternative future with disdain. But so many college graduates cannot find work and nowadays simply sit and suffer under massive debt. It’s time for us to realize that college isn’t the right choice for everyone, after all.

Instead, it’s time to popularize new post-graduation paths. In the U.S., vocational education is strangely unpopular, whereas in many other Western countries, such as Switzerland and Finland, this training is a standard part of high-school education and technicians, craftsmen, accountants, engineers, and so on who were educated vocationally are respected in society.

Under our current system, our growing generations are poorly educated and diversified, and this is unacceptable if we wish to maintain America’s role in the global economy and culture. To fix this systemic issue, we must redefine the system itself. Here is my proposition:

For our country to survive, we must train our children to their fullest potential. In order to do so, we ought to revise our K-12 system so that it focuses on learning — not on getting into college. Once we refine the specific components, high school graduates will not be unemployed with mounds of debt. Instead, they will all immediately excel in lucrative and diverse professions, working together to secure America’s collective future prosperity.

The failure of "college for all"