The importance of early education

Equity, coherence, and innovation. These are the goals that Superintendent Tommy Chang and I emphasize as we work to improve Boston’s public schools. We recognize this is not a simple goal. And we understand that there is still work to be done to build an environment that best and individually serves each and every one of our 56,000 students.

To reach this goal, we need to look to the very beginning: pre-kindergarten. We need to make sure all of our students have the tools for success. These tools will lay the foundation for the ability and desire for learning, a foundation they will build on throughout their time in Boston’s schools, and beyond.

That’s why during this year’s budget process, and despite financial restraints, we increased the budget for Boston Public Schools by $18.2 million. Within this budget, we’re including $3.1 million to add 200 pre-kindergarten seats. This marks a total increase of 400 budgeted seats since I’ve taken office. I am extremely proud of that commitment, and I am excited that our schools, teachers, and students are developing an educational environment that underscores early education.

The impact of pre-kindergarten on a student’s education is undeniable. It has a major impact on academic, social, and emotional development. BPS data show that children who go to K1 outperform their peers in subsequent years, regardless of race or poverty. Research also shows us that early children programs with trained teachers as well as smaller teacher-to-student ratios result in higher MCAS achievement. On a broader scale, pre-kindergarten has led to improved behavior, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as the prevention of illegal and criminal behavior and success in the overall labor market and economy.

We know families face challenges in sending their children to pre-kindergarten, whether they are affordability, quality, or accessibility issues. That’s why we formed the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Advisory Committee to take a close look at strategies to increase access to full-day pre-kindergarten, with a certified teacher, in a Boston Public School or community-based program.

Our results have been largely positive so far. Boston’s K-1 program has helped improve language, literacy, and mathematics development. We’ve seen significant reductions in the achievement gap between students by third grade. As a city, we can’t afford to not make this investment in our students, and in our future.

Working with the Commonwealth and other partners, we will continue to create high-quality, pre-kindergarten classrooms. We’re committed to expanding pre-kindergarten – at this same level of excellence – until every four-year old in our city is guaranteed a seat.

Our students are our strongest assets. Investing in their future and success from an early age is vital to the future and success of Boston as a whole. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But we are taking the right steps in making sure the Boston school system is more equitable, coherent, and innovative than ever before in our history.

Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston.