Early Ed for “The Safety of Our Country”
A report last week from a new group called Mission: Readiness featured a very troubling statistic: 75 percent of young Americans cannot join the U.S. military because they are too poorly educated, have a criminal record or are overweight.
But here's a promising development to go along with that startling data: The report goes straight to the heart of the problem, explaining that the solution is to ensure that all children receive a high-quality early education. In fact, the report puts early education its sub-head.
Eighty-nine retired military leaders, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed the report. They have come together to form Mission: Readiness, a non-profit, bi-partisan organization dedicated to supporting public investments in early childhood programs as a matter of national security.
In their words:
"The safety of our country demands urgent and intelligent action. We call on all policymakers to ensure America's national security by supporting interventions that will prepare young people for a life of military service and productive citizenship; this includes fully funding early childhood education programs, improving graduation rates, supporting families in ways that improve parenting skills and reduce child abuse, improving child health, mental health and nutrition services, and helping troubled kids get back on track."
In its "Next Steps" section, the report hails Oklahoma for its pre-K program, and points out that "Head Start serves less than half of all eligible children," and Early Head Start serves far fewer than that.
But the report doesn't simply urge the opening of more pre-K programs for 4-year-olds. It includes examples of birth-to-5 strategies and stresses how important it is to deliver high-quality programs -- both of which are approaches that we fully support as well.
The only piece missing from the military leaders' assessment is an acknowledgment that school readiness by age 5 is not the end-all, be-all either. It will take high quality early education programs that push up through the primary grades, maintaining the momentum of the gains made in children's preschool years. The faster we start focusing on that, the more likely the chances that our country can not only pull itself out of the military-recruitment morass but also improve the quality of life that these children will lead no matter what career path they choose.