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Castro puts pre-K on the national stage

In addition to thrusting himself into the national spotlight with his DNC keynote address, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro also brought the discussion about pre-kindergarten education to the fore.

Mayor Julian Castro

Under the biggest spotlight of his political career, Mayor Julián Castro brought national attention Tuesday to his early childhood education initiative.

An estimated 26 million people tuned in to his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, where Castro called pre-K a “smart investment” that would help prepare San Antonio’s next generation to compete in the global economy.

“We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity,” Castro said in a nod to detractors, who have called the plan a handout.

On Nov. 6, voters will decide on the proposal: an eight-year, 1/8th-cent sales tax increase to greatly expand access to full-day pre-K for the city’s 4-year-olds and sharpen the quality of existing programs.

The program would prepare kids for school and keep them performing at grade level through the third grade — a pivotal time for students, according to research showing that those on track then are more likely to succeed later on.

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Steven Barnett, who directs the National Institute of Early Education Research, said NIEER commissioned a study of all the long-term research on preschool programs in the United States since 1960. It found that they produce, on average, “substantial cognitive effects” and deliver long-term outcomes with significant social impacts — including a decrease in incarceration rates, which can save a state millions of dollars.

Barnett said in an email that while the 2010 Head Start study’s results were consistent with his findings, it’s not the full picture.

And changes made in the wake of that study have revamped the program, increasing teacher and teaching assistant certification and training requirements and forcing providers to recompete for funds if audits turn up problems.

The mayor’s plan, Barnett pointed out, puts a greater emphasis than Head Start on “high educational standards focused on strong teaching” — a model, he said, that would produce larger initial and long-term effects.

“To argue that Mayor Castro’s preschool plan won’t work because research found Head Start had small effects is like arguing that the San Antonio Spurs can’t win an NBA championship because you have seen the Trinity Tigers play,” Barnett said. “It’s the wrong comparison and completely misleading.”

I don’t really have much to add to this. I think this is a good idea, and I hope the initiative passes. I look forward to seeing the results.

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