(This post first appeared today at Seattletimes.com.) We are failing to prepare all of our children for a successful life, a reality that creates injustice and social inequity, harms our long-term economic prospects, and costs all of us a lot of money. This tragic fact is most evident when we look at education achievement.
Less than half of Seattle’s low-income children and children of color are ready to begin their formal education when they walk through the door of their kindergarten classrooms, meaning they lack basic, age-expected social-emotional development, and language, cognitive, literacy and math skills. These facts are sadly clear in the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) completed each year in the first few weeks of kindergarten.
This is vital work we should all embrace because children entering kindergarten without basic, ready-to-learn-and-thrive skills face a steep climb. For most, it’s too steep a climb, and they will never catch up, as the evidence shows. And this reality not only harms these children and their families, but all of us in higher social-service costs, failure to prepare our future workforce and unnecessary criminal-justice system involvement.
This terrible American — and Seattle — tragedy is well documented in “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality” by Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa. Citing their research and successful programs, these scholars agree we should invest very early in the lives of children in high-quality programs designed to enhance brain development, prepare kids for kindergarten and support parents.
Now, we’ve taken some great steps to address this crucial issue. Soon, Washington will have the most progressive paid-family-leave program in the country, a key ingredient for supporting families and children. We are raising the minimum wage. Washington — and especially Seattle — has a high-quality preschool program for our 3- and 4-year olds that is meeting expectations.
Second, let’s strengthen the city government relationship with Seattle Public Schools and forge a new partnership that is keenly focused on preparing our children for kindergarten and then making sure they receive the quality education they deserve. City and school-district leaders should jointly plan for this fall’s renewal of the city’s expiring Families & Education Levy and the Seattle Preschool Program Levy, and then the 2019 school levies.
The status quo where thousands of Seattle children of color and low-income children face a bleak future because we are not adequately preparing them to enter kindergarten should jar us to take bold, corrective action now.
Why does this matter? Because all our children deserve a strong and fair start in life. And with that strong and fair start, our children will be prepared to lead, to fuel innovation, to sustain the economy and to advance the common good.