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Earlier kindergarten could help close achievement gap

As educators in the United States look for ways to increase student achievement to help them meet the academic expectations that come with the Common Core State Standards, new information indicates that earlier kindergarten could help to close the achievement gap.

The Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare students for college and their careers beginning at a young age so they can develop the skills necessary to be successful in the technologically focused 21st century. The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and address academic expectations for K-12 students.

The approach to education in the United States has been receiving renewed attention as of late, with many states contemplating the possibility of expanding kindergarten offerings to give students a solid foundation upon which to build their knowledge.

"When we talk about early childhood as the first step toward college and career readiness, there's really two parts to that: kids having a solid foundation of skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, and there's also the [Department of Education] through its programs, partnering with parents from the start," Sophia Pappas, executive director of the Office of Early Childhood Education, told SchoolBook.

There has been a great deal of discussion about expanding opportunities for young children to attend school, with some suggesting that the United States adopt a plan to make pre-kindergarten available to all students, particularly those from low-income families.

Giving these students access to a quality, personalized learning experience early in life could help reduce the startling achievement gap between kindergartners in the United States.

According to The Economist, research has shown that children from households on welfare know 525 words by age three, while their peers from higher-income families know more than 1,100. Students who begin school at a younger age are also less likely to commit crimes and end up in prison as adults.

Currently, most American students begin kindergarten at the age of 5 or 6, according to Education News, but policy is fragmented throughout the United States. While some states require full-day kindergarten, others leave the decision up to individual school districts.

"The striking variation demonstrates that at a pivotal time for cognitive and social/emotional development, children are not receiving fair and equitable early education opportunities," the Education Commission of the States report said. "Yet, all children are held to the same rigorous expectations throughout their educational careers, starting in kindergarten."

According to the report, 35 states do not require children to attend kindergarten, which could mean they are missing out on valuable instruction, particularly as many schools move toward the use of blended learning programs.

Although there is currently no definitive proof that earlier kindergarten will close the achievement gap between students in the United States, what is clear is that beginning school at a young age has many academic, as well as social, benefits.

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