If we had universal, high-quality pre-K in this country our kindergartens would be worlds different from the way they are now. At the moment, the first months of kindergarten tend to be bedlam. Half the class – or more – in most public school kindergartens today has never learned to take turns, share, follow directions, or listen to others. Half the class thinks the way to solve problems is to push the other guy away, take what you want, shout over everyone else. If pre-K could teach the basics of how to get along in a group – which is what kindergarten is now obliged to teach – then kindergarten could be a productive year of block play, painting, singing, imaginative play, listening to stories, and other activities designed to lay the groundwork for academic learning. Think how incredibly ready for first grade our six year-olds would be!
Something to be very clear about though is that if we are going to fund pre-K then we need to hire carefully trained, gifted teachers to do the job, and we need to mentor and compensate them fairly. Teaching young children is an intellectually challenging, taxing job. It is not a job just any college graduate can do. We also need to be sure the principals who work with these teachers have a foundation in early childhood education – and understand that the goals of pre-K are not the same as the goals of first grade. There is no point in investing taxpayer money to launch a major new initiative unless we are going to do it right.