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The pre-school gap

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.
June 24, 2013 1:25:09 PM PDT
The day my son graduated high school the week before last, my 3-year-old "graduated" from her first year of pre-school. She gathered in a circle more than a dozen of her classmates, singing songs for their parents.

I felt fatherly pride, of course. But I also felt a kind of guilt - because Ella and the other kids are getting a head start that most kids don't get.

If all the recent research is to be believed, these kids who experience pre-school get a huge leg up in what experts call the "rug rat race." Because the gap between rich and poor isn't just about income - it's also about education.

Kids from higher income families - those who can afford pre-school - do dramatically better. The test-score gap between rich and poor students is 40% greater than it was 30 years ago, according to Stanford education professor Sean Reardon, who studies this gap.

"Whatever we've been doing in our schools," Reardon wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, "it hasn't reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families."

And so I'm looking at my little 3-year-old Ella and I'm rejoicing in how fortunate they are. But I'm also pained, because by the time Ella gets to kindergarten she will have had so many more advantages over the kids who didn't go to pre-school.

And this gap affects all of us, because kids grow up to become tax-paying workers. If their education doesn't work, then society doesn't work.

We are only as good tomorrow as our students are today.

Getting kids access to pre-school is now a rallying cry across the country. President Obama has proposed a $75 billion federal investment in pre-school. Expensive? Yes. But compared to what? Caring for prisoners cost us $70 billion a year. And the Pew Partnership estimates the one million students who drop out every year cost more than $200 billion per year in lost wages, taxes and productivity.

Critics will say we can't afford to have universal pre-school. Those who support universal pre-school for all say we can't afford NOT to have it.

That's the back beat for me as we prep our 11 p.m. newscast tonight. And first up is Nelson Mandela, and I'm thinking about a quote of his that seems especially appropriate.

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others."

And didn't Nelson Mandela do that, right?

The man who said that, and who did that, is, by all indications, about to die. We should all live such a long life, right? But he didn't just live a long life, he lived a full one, if a tortured one. He spent decades behind bars, a political prisoner who didn't just stay strong in the fight against South African Apartheid, but he got stronger. He became a symbol and a leader, and when he emerged in 1990, the official racist policy of South Africa didn't have a chance.

And it folded.

And so now the man who singularly called the world's attention to apartheid tonight has the world's attention. Mandela, now 94 and in critical condition, with the world in a kind of death watch. His death will shock no one - he's been ill for some time - and the prime of his life has long since passed. But his death will mark the end of an historic figure and historic life.

And so while we wait, we think about how he changed the world, and changed so many lives. We appreciate how far we've come, but also how far we have to still go.

We'll have the latest on Mandela's condition, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, the first week of summer is certainly living up to its image, with a heat wave expected. The thermometer topped 90 degrees today, and Meteorologist Lee Goldberg says we're likely to see over 90 temps for the next two days, giving us the second heat wave of the month. His AccuWeather forecast, plus any breaking news and Rob Powers with the night's sports ? all coming up at 11.

I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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