Dana Goldstein for The Nation, on NYC's innovative new Pre-K initiative:
At the Future of America Learning Center in the West Bronx, the pre-K curriculum is built around adult jobs—visiting real workplaces and then learning about the vocabulary and skills that grown-ups use every day. At a career-month event, 4-year-olds meet doctors and nurses from the Montefiore Medical Center. Back in their classroom, they set up a replica triage desk and play doctor with a real stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff. In another unit, students visit a Citibank vault and then deposit real coins in a classroom bank. [...] This is a gold-standard pre-K education—the kind that, according to research by Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman, increases children’s lifetime earnings and their chances of being employed, and decreases their probability of becoming incarcerated or reliant on public assistance as adults. Heckman has found that high-quality pre-K for poor children yields returns of 7-10 percent on every $1 in government spending, annually. As Goldstein states, the new curriculum is pricey but it's also definitely thoughtful. The idea that children re-enact back in the classroom the scenes they saw for real is a perfect example of what dramatic play is supposed to be: children using their imaginations to assume adult roles. It gives them perspective on the world, as well as encourages cognitive development and critical thinking skills. In a broader scope, universal preschool is an important issue that should be adopted everywhere; NYC's program seems to be a good first step towards achieving that goal.