What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us

Topic: Achievement gap, Early Literacy

Does it really surprise you that children entering kindergarten unprepared places them at a disadvantage over the long term? No, right! Well, it did surprise many Americans, according to a recently released survey from the Pearson Foundation.

According to the poll, about three-quarters of Americans assume that even if children enter kindergarten not ready for school, they will acquire the necessary literacy skills in elementary school to catch up with their peers. However, the research evidence shows the contrary – children who enter kindergarten unready usually do not catch up. In fact, research points out that children who enter kindergarten behind are three to four times more likely to drop out of school when they get older.

More than half of the population polled was unaware that family income is the best predictor of whether or not a child will succeed in school, nor were they aware that nearly half of the children from low-income families begin first grade up to two years behind their peers from higher income families. In addition, three-quarters of Americans are unaware that about 60 percent of low-income parents do not own age-appropriate books for their children.

While the vast majority of people polled acknowledged that early childhood illiteracy is problematic, they did not recognize that the simple act of reading to 3- to 5-year-olds can have significant impacts on children’s academic and life-long success.

“It’s common to under-estimate the importance of early literacy experiences for young children’s later language and literacy development, especially those experiences before the age of 3,” says Shannon Ayers, an assistant research professor at NIEER and a specialist on early literacy.

“Experiences of a caregiver cooing back at an infant provide the basis for conversation turn taking, and singing lullabies and silly rhyming songs provide experiences with the cadence of language,” she adds. “Lap reading and talking about stories and personal experiences with children offers exposure to story structure, print, and language (vocabulary development) in a comfortable, loving way that will provide the foundation for later learning.”

NIEER discusses literacy in the preschool classroom and its link to academic and lifelong achievement in the policy brief Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years.


  1. Sheila Schlesinger on

    as a pre-k teacher this article came as no surprise to me. What i find particularly upsetting is the lack of understanding about pre-k among professionals. I can live with the idea that parents and adults who have no children or who are living in an affluent community may not understand the importance of pre-k, but educators who are not involved in early childhood often think of pre-k as a baby sitting service and don’t truly understand why it is so important and what we should actually be doing instead of what we are often mandated to do.
    Young children need to have authentic conversations to develop language. They need to have someone read to them in a loving and restful atmosphere..not rushed through or reading with a book report in mind. They need to explore and discover.
    I am amazed at how much effort is put into middle and high school with its emphasis on test scores when if that much effort, directly appropriately, were put into pre-k,k, and 1st grade, there would be far fewer issues in the middle and high school grades.

  2. It is sad to read that the NIEER has unquestioningly accepted the premise that children need to be “ready” for kindergarten and have to “catch up” with other children.
    It is sad that NIEER regards education as being a race among children to reach arbitrary standards.
    If preschool is a means of preparing children for kindergarten, are we going to start preparing children for preschool? Where will this end?
    (I wrote a satirical paper ten years ago urging prenatal phonemic awareness training. Several reviewers thought it was a good idea, but just a little extreme. It has been cited in the professional literature as a serious paper. Krashen, S. 1998. Phonemic awareness training for prelinguistic children: Do we need prenatal PA? Reading Improvement 35: 167-171.)

  3. Kindergarten Readiness has become a buzz word among the early childhood community and has created an anxious worry for parents who want their child “ready”. The problem with this, however, is that we lack clear definition of what “ready” really implies.

    What it does not imply is an academic preparedness for a child who lacks the cognitive, social, emotional and/or physical development required for formal learning.

    The early childhood years require an understanding of developmentally appropriate techniques and the concept of “preparing for” rather than “already achieving” formal literacy.

    If we could concentrate on helping young children develop a love of the written word by stressing its relevance and ubiquitiousness in real life, by connecting it with relationships and how we communicate with each other, by empowering their innate creativity and curiosity to explore and develop meaning, we might discover that what we try to achieve through “readiness skills” is best accomplished by allowing young children to engage in minimally structured, creative, social as well as solitary play.

    We might also find that young children emerge from these experiences with a greater tolerance for differences, an increased willingness to compromise and cooperate, an enhanced belief in their own ability to problem solve and an emerging awareness of the importance of critical thinking.

    I do not mean to imply by this that young children need to be ignored, although that might be a relief from the constant hovering and managing many parents consider a hallmark of “quality” parenting. What I do mean is that young children need to be respected for their own ability to grow and develop the skills they will need in life. Guidance to keep them from harm, faith in their ability to learn and grow, and reminders of past and present successes are some of what we can do for young children.

    We can also expose them to the concept of learning about the world and life around them through meaningful conversations and by modeling our own curiosity about evey day things and events.

    The world of a young child is filled with discovery and wonder. We may be doing more harm than we realize when we think we can do better by imposing what we believe is “kindergarten readiness”.

  4. Children should be given extra attention, affection and time especially at delicate periods where their cognitive developments are at peak.
    Simply reading, talking, playing and singing to a child will really impact what will become of the child when he comes to age.
    Preschool is the most sensitive part of the child’s life to establish good study habits.
    I do believe that people should be nourished holistically from womb to tomb. Any single miss-out in any part of the person’s developmental stages would most likely lead to catastrophic endings and unlikely adulthood.

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