Preschool makes a big difference for children 

I am proud that the San Francisco Unified School District is the largest provider of preschool in The City and one of the few districts in California that continues to invest in early education.

We have known that children who attend a high-quality preschool program enter kindergarten with a lot going for them. They tend to have better social skills, richer vocabularies and more experience with math than those who do not.

It makes economic and educational sense to invest in early education, the foundation for doing well all throughout children's subsequent thirteen years of schooling and beyond.

I bet you already know that children who attend quality preschools enter kindergarten more prepared than their peers. But do you know how much more prepared?

In a recent study right here in San Francisco, researchers concluded that children who attend First 5 San Francisco's Preschool for All programs have a significant edge in academic and social skills, preparing them to succeed in school.

They had a three-month advantage over children who had not participated in PFA in identifying letters and words — important precursors to reading — and they had a three- to four-month advantage in counting, simple addition and subtraction.

Children also had big advantages in their abilities to listen, follow directions, focus and control their impulses, and their gains on these critical learning skills exceeded gains seen in studies of children in other states.

Preschool access is growing

Since 2004, San Francisco has exponentially expanded preschool access for city residents, regardless of family income. Funded nine years ago by the voter-approved Public Education Enrichment Fund, Preschool for All offers free and reduced-cost preschool for 4-year-olds.

Now, 83 percent of The City's 4-year-olds attend preschool, compared to 74 percent nationwide. Most of the gains in attendance have been among black and Latino children, whose attendance has soared to 80 percent, from previous levels of 68 percent for blacks and 54 percent for Latinos.

Preschool helps bridge the opportunity gap

But it's not just about quantity, it's about quality. In addition to more children attending preschools, the quality of their pre-K education is improving.

Independent evaluators have found that PFA, of which the SFUSD is a part, features some of the highest levels of quality in the nation for its learning environments and instructional quality.

Preschool is helping to close the academic achievement gap. The gap between low-income children of color and their peers is already apparent by kindergarten. By accelerating children's academic and social development by months, we're setting children on a better path to thrive.

To learn more about Preschool for All, visit www.first5sf.org.

To learn more about the SFUSD's early-education programs, visit www.sfusd.edu/programs.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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