Lack of Kindergarten Readiness Highlights Serious Disconnects in Florida’s School System

In education, quality and quantity matter. Thus, it is concerning that the results of the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Test revealed that out of 133,000 children, only 57% showed a willingness to go to kindergarten.

In an already strained education system, trying to catch up with underprepared children could pose a critical threat to academic success and economic growth in Florida.

Pre-K attendance tends to increase readiness, and Florida’s Universal Pre-K program has been running since 2005. Unfortunately, it has proven to be insufficient. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, pre-K programs in Florida only meet two out of 10 requirements to be considered high quality.

This lack of kindergarten readiness is just the tip of the iceberg. Under perfect conditions, intensive instruction could prepare students for their transition to primary and secondary schools. Instead, kindergartners are entering a public school system that struggles to educate 2.7 million students while being underfunded, understaffed and overtested.

Florida ranks 46th in the United States for teacher compensation, with salaries $10,000 below the national average. Complementing this problem is Florida’s cost of living that is 10% higher than the national average.

Due to the economic pressure on teachers, there was a shortage of over 2,440 teachers as of January 2020. Apart from low salaries, teachers are losing morale because they don’t feel heard, they are forced to shape a curriculum to accommodate excessive standardized testing and navigate confusing assessment standards.

In addition to teacher shortages and inadequate pre-kindergarten, students entering Florida’s public education system will also feel the effects of declining per-student education funding and the maldistribution of resources. funds between high-income and low-income schools.

There are a host of issues stemming from COVID-19 that are fueling the fire in the public education system. While the stark inequality in the United States was not yet widely known, COVID-19 has brought to light the gaps in income and opportunity across the country.

Many students don’t have access to a stable internet connection or the technology needed to be an online student. Students who depend on reduced prices or free breakfast and lunch at school also face hunger and related health problems.

Other problems associated with school closures are a disconnection from vocational education, delayed social development, declining mental health and chronic absenteeism.

Life is still far from returning to normal. In our current COVID-19 situation, overall enrollment may decline and learning will continue to be relatively inefficient. This paints a bleak picture for children entering Florida’s public school system, especially since many of them are already ill-prepared.

In the future, these undereducated children could translate into a less educated and skilled workforce, weakening Florida’s economy.

In most situations, there are usually ways to mitigate the damage. For example, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that contingency plans are crucial. An important part of these plans could be having adequate or even additional emergency funding for schools.

With such funding, many of the above issues could be addressed, as well as issues specific to COVID-19. With sufficient funding, schools in Florida could institute rigorous COVID-19 testing programs, install plastic barriers in classrooms, stagger attendance and allow space for physical distancing in classrooms.

While it’s ironic to learn something from a crisis caused by a lack of learning, there are some important notes to be made here. The steps Florida lawmakers take now to fund, preserve, and support the public school system will have a direct impact on the productivity and growth of the economy over the next five, 10, 15 years.

Florida kindergartens’ lack of preparation should not be a sign of failure or a signal to surrender. It’s just a challenge. In the end, who is better equipped to meet the challenge than a generation of well-educated children?

Featured Image: School crosswalk sign. Unedited photo by Brian J. Matis used under a Creative Commons license.(https://bit.ly/3rVkhIY)

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Jeremy S. McLain