Photo; Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

The Boston City Council recently held a hearing on the achievement gap, and Brenda Powers, president of the Boston Association for the Education of Young Children, was among those who testified. Powers, who also directs the Nazareth Child Care Center in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, gave powerful testimony about the role that high-quality early education — delivered through a mix of public and private providers –- plays in preparing children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Here is her testimony:

“Thank you, council members, for being here tonight and listening to my professional opinion of what will help us close the achievement gap.  I wish it were as simple as waving a magic wand and giving everyone the same opportunities, the same privileges. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

“As we have been able to determine from studies, children who are not successful by the third grade MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] exams are not likely to be successful in school. They are more likely to drop out. Ultimately they will cost the state money, lots of money, for services they will need as they get older, perhaps well into adulthood.

“Knowing the third grade [reading] scores are indicators, we can’t just wait and see what happens once the children are tested. We need to be proactive and make sure all children have access to quality early education programs. In early education programs, children will have vocabulary-rich environments. Early educators would provide learning opportunities to encourage shape and color recognition. The children would have books read to them and to read. There would be gross motor, fine motor and cognitive activities meant to develop muscles and skills. Children would have an opportunity to learn what it means to be part of a community of learners. A community where they would learn to share, take turns, be independent and be a team player.  When children are in kindergarten or first grade and they are just learning these skills, they are not able to focus on the ‘learning’ needed to become successful readers or mathematicians. All their energy is spent learning to be a student, causing them to fall behind their peers who have had the advantage of being in a quality early education program.

“The Boston Public Schools have shown a great deal of commitment to quality early education programs, but they cannot do it alone. We need to work together. There are not enough spaces for all the children needing a placement. We also need to realize that each child is unique. Not every child is well served in a school or a center. Some need a smaller setting, such as a quality family child care environment. Some families need a program that is longer than the typical public school day, and expecting them to do [different] before- and after-school [programs] is not appropriate for their social-emotional levels. It would mean up to eight transitions, for someone 3 or 4 years old, in one day. Most adults wouldn’t be able to handle that many transitions in one day, and yet sometimes that is what we expect our youngest, most vulnerable children to do.

“If we truly want to close the achievement gap, we need to make the commitment to work as a community to provide quality, nurturing programs for children in the ‘preschool’ years. We need to be able to stand before these children in 20 years and say, ‘I did my best by you.’ In 30 years, we need to be able to say, ‘The world is in good hands because I valued you enough to provide you with a quality education, and you are now able to lead the next generation.’”