Sunday, November 22, 2009

Invest in Preschool, Invest in the Future

Yesterday, I spent about five hours raking leaves at Tauxemont Cooperative Preschool with a dozen other parents - part of our duties along with our "school job." Tauxemont is a cooperative preschool which means it has significant parent involvement in the operation of the school. Two of my children went through their program, two currently attend, I'm an alumni, along with my brother and sister, and my father, uncle and aunt who attended in the 1940's after my grandparents helped start the school with other families in the mid-1940's.

Saturday morning, there was an interesting article in the Washington Post regarding the importance of preschool and the evolving debate over teaching techniques. During my campaign, I talked a lot about the importance of preschool and the lack of it in parts of my district. One paragraph jumped out at me:
Research has shown that by 23, people who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.
Here's a link to the study. Of course, there is a whole chicken and egg aspect to this - play-based preschools might be more prevalent among certain demographics, regions or areas, children with early emotional disturbances probably could not participate in play-based preschool, and the list goes on. Notwithstanding, it is something to think about.

The broader point is that the ten precincts in the 44th District on the east side of U.S. 1 have over a dozen preschools (Westgate, Whitman, Woodley, Hollin Hall, Fort Hunt Stratford, Waynewood, Sherwood, Belle Haven, & Bucknell). The four precincts on the western side of U.S. 1 have zero (Huntington, Groveton, Fairfield & Woodlawn).

The lack of preschool on the west side of U.S. 1 translates to more children arriving for kindergarten not as prepared as children on the east side and playing catch up from the first day they are in school. With test scores at some of the schools in our community heading in the wrong direction, we need to start looking at solutions immediately.

As with sports, knowing the fundamentals at an early age goes a long way towards being competitive. Preschool teaches important fundamental skills such as problem solving, cooperative play, language development, or things as simple as learning how to hold a pencil.

Virginia spends about 60% of what Maryland per child on preschool. Preschool also typically costs less per child than the $12,000 per child it typically costs to educate kindergartners. Governor Kaine tried to significantly increase Virginia's preschool spending, but was blocked by the House of Delegates.

The expansion of preschool would have meaningful benefits for the Mount Vernon community, especially compared with the rest of the County. I am going to put together a group to recommend solutions for expanding access to preschools in our community. If you are interested, drop me a note at


  1. Scott! Good points!
    Preschools are always more prevalent in upper income areas because the parents are more likely to be able to pick up and deliver, or have a Nanny or Grandparent pick up and deliver.

    The bigger issue is quality childcare, isn't it? Where are the under-5's on the other side of route 1 when the under-5's on our side are in preschool? At Grandma's? At a neighbor's? At a high-quality home daycare provider's? In Head Start? This is a really interesting and rich area to find out about!

  2. Right Gail. When I was knocking doors in these communities I saw dozens of kids being cared for by grandparents, teenagers, or in at-home daycare situations. No question that quality childcare is an issue.

    My kids went to the Bryant Early Learning Center run by United Community Ministries for a couple years before a nanny became more cost effective for us with three kids. However, the BEL is really an incredible program that focuses on the U.S. 1 community, but we need about 10 more of them.