Where Our Work Begins

Is there an age that could be too young for school?
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More and more individuals and organizations are recognizing that education is no longer just about a child’s K-12 experience. The reality is that student achievement doesn’t just happen because of a good elementary school experience. It happens when early childhood experiences include social, literacy, language, physical, and cognitive development.

As more research comes to the surface about just how critical early childhood learning is on overall outcomes for students, it certainly makes you think about what really needs to happen to create catalytic change. But is there an age that could be too young for school? Should it be mandatory for three and four year olds to attend 180 days of school? Who should be responsible for the cost? This is the conversation that states like Iowa are having right now. People are recognizing that knowing your abc’s, how to share, read, talk and tie your shoes are not just basic skills. They are critical skills.


Three kindergarten children sitting at a hexagonal blue table working on drawing straight and wavy lines.


Photo by RajatKansal via WikiCommons

Before kindergarten even begins there is a 30 million word gap between children who come from a low-income background versus a high-income background. According to a recent article in Education Week, research is indicating that falling behind before kindergarten has life long implications for a child’s ability to be successful in school. Students who struggle, according to the study, rarely catch up.The vicious cycle keeps going.

Since 2006, Teach For America has been seeking to improve early childhood education (ECE) in our most underserved communities. Recently I was part of a group of over 40 staff, alums, and corps members to attend the first-ever ECE Teach For America retreat in Atlanta, Georgia. We had the opportunity to explore the work being done in the pre-kindergarten classrooms at Drew Charter School and see first hand the impact the Rollins Center  is having on student outcomes.

For Drew Charter School, the name of the game is language. They recognize that if a child’s oral language acquisition is not developed, very little can be accomplished. Oral language has so much to do with reading, comprehension, cognitive development, social emotional skills, as well as problem solving. Oral language is the factor that is determining whether a pre-kindergarten or preschool experience is quality.

When you enter into a Drew Charter School pre-k classroom, language is infused into every part of a child’s experience. Whether it is a math lesson or an imaginary play center, language is the heartbeat and the rhythm to success. As a result, you witness things like a 4 year old solving a mathematic inequality, analyzing data from a bar graph, or independently solving a conflict with a fellow playmate.

As we have this debate about when a child begins school and what they need to learn, we must remember that if we don’t make a decision we are only putting our future at risk. A child not having a quality pre-k experience has serious academic, societal, and economic implications. When we are thinking about solving the problem of the achievement gap, One Day can happen, but it starts with conversation and the game changer is language. 

Robyn is a native of Pittsburgh, PA. She taught kindergarten as a 2009 Metro Atlanta corps member. After her corps experience, she joined staff as an MTLD where she supports 23 ECE corps members and 12 elementary school corps members in Metro Atlanta.


Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.