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What Every Long Islander Should Know: June 6, 2012

Thinking Outside The Classroom For Education Reform

During the past decade, we have heard endless talk about reforming our state education system. But we have little to show for it. So far, reform has focused on what happens inside our schools. The result? Flat test scores, an achievement gap that hasn’t budged and ballooning costs to help battle these challenges.

Now Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is taking a go at it, and has charged a commission with increasing efficiencies and improving outcomes at our schools. But if Cuomo’s team focuses on the same old solutions, we can expect the same dismal results. To really make a difference, we need to start thinking outside of the classroom.

For years, researchers have documented that kids’ families and home life play a huge role in their academic achievement. And they have the strongest impact before a child even sets foot in a school. This is no surprise. It’s a well-known fact that the most important brain development happens in the first five years of a child’s life. In fact, by the time kids enter kindergarten, there is already a large gap between disadvantaged children and their peers caused by poverty, limited education, language barriers and other obstacles. The average scores for black and Hispanic children on reading and math assessments are 20 percent lower than for white children.

Instead of expecting children to magically bridge this growing divide, we need to put them on a level playing field from the start.

One such program started here on Long Island does just that. The Parent Child Home Program (PCHP) – which has 10 sites here on LI that helped 270 families last year alone –prepares young kids around the country for their first day of school. They bridge the preparation gap by arming them with language, literacy, social and problem solving skills. While it may sound simple, it works. The results speak for themselves.

In Center Moriches last year, 61 children underwent the preschool screening. Children who completed two years in the PCHP on average scored in the 82.16 percentile. Those who were not enrolled in the program on average scored in the 60.14 percentile. The lesson is simple: armed early with basic skills, our children are far more likely to succeed. This is why the Rauch Foundation has been a supporter of the PCHP for the past 25 years.

Now, we hope Cuomo’s commission will think outside the box and the classroom to find other cost-effective ways to help our students thrive, while also controlling costs. If we pinpoint key problem areas in our education system, we can target the places where investing our time, money and effort will get us the most bang for our buck.

By making smart investments in our children – and starting early – we can make a lasting difference in their lives and create the foundation for a better future for all of us.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation that supports innovative programs centered on children, the environment, and regional leadership. For more information visit www.rauchfoundation.org.