Tennessee needs to better prepare students before third grade | Opinion
In the last decade, Tennessee’s education reforms have driven historic improvements, resulting in high academic standards, aligned assessments and accelerated growth in academic achievement for students in grades 3 through 12.
Despite the improvements, student proficiency still falls short of Tennessee’s goals. Tennessee’s standards-aligned assessments reveal alarming news: a majority of Tennessee’s students in third to 12th grades are not proficient in English and math.
The Nation’s Report Card tells a similar story. Despite Tennessee’s improvements, proficiency rates still rank it in the bottom half of all states.
Especially striking is that by third and fourth grades, our students are already significantly behind, with nearly two-thirds not proficient in English and math.
We know that when students are not proficient by third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school and 60 percent less likely to pursue a post-secondary degree. Once students fall behind in third grade, they tend to stay behind or fall further.
Low proficiency in third grade is a clear indication that the quality of children’s learning prior to third grade requires significant improvements.
Learning begins at birth. The brain develops more in the first five years than at any other time during a person’s life. Deficits in early literacy and math skills have been documented as early as nine months and widening from there along family income lines. Early literacy, math and early social skills at kindergarten entry are strong predictors of future academic success.
Bipartisan commitment to literacy and early childhood education
Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) is committed to improving early education to ensure stronger academic achievement for all students and shared prosperity in Tennessee. We are a bipartisan group of people and organizations in business, nonprofit, education, healthcare, law enforcement and faith communities advocating to make high-quality early education, from birth through third grade, a state priority.
Our policy priorities, available in more detail at www.tqee.org, include:
Engaged and empowered parents. Parents are children’s first and most influential teachers. We advocate for policies that engage and empower parents through evidence-based home visiting programs, parent-teacher partnerships in childcare and elementary schools and school-community partnerships that expand families’ access to local resources.
High quality, affordable child care. High quality, affordable child care is critical to support the more than 300,000 young children in Tennessee with working parents. Child care directly impacts current and future workforce development, as well as family economic stability.
We back policies that set high standards for teaching, learning and outcomes, recruit and retain high quality teachers, and anchor state reimbursement rates to actual cost of quality.
Excellent early grades teaching. To boost student outcomes in third grade and beyond, instruction from pre-kindergarten to third grade must be better aligned with best practices and how young children learn. We support improved instructional materials, investments in training for early grades teachers and principals, and accountability for results.
Stronger accountability and continuous improvement in early education. Tennessee has limited statewide data on early learning from birth to second grade. To maximize investments in public education, Tennessee should commit to a birth-to-5 early learning data system, developmentally-appropriate methods to measure and improve instructional effectiveness pre-k to second grade and better support for early grades teachers to use student data to improve learning outcomes.
Eighty-one percent of Tennesseans support “major change” in public education, and 69 percent say they would vote for policymakers who support early education, according to a statewide survey conducted by TQEE.
Tennesseans want better education outcomes and understand that depends on giving our children a smart start. TQEE stands ready to work with the next governor and General Assembly to make early childhood education the starting place for transformational change.
Tara Scarlett is president and chief executive officer of Scarlett Family Foundation and board member of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education.[Read more at The Tennessean]