Three retired military generals recently held a press conference at the Mississippi state capitol to say that 85 percent of Mississippians aged 17 to 24 are unqualified for military service. Major enlistment obstacles for Mississippi residents, according to the generals, include poor physical fitness and insufficient education. Their solution may surprise you: they want to invest more in Pre-K education.
Mississippi isn’t the only state with residents who lack the fitness and qualifications for military service. Poor achievement in education may threaten the U.S.’s military readiness in future generations. To make a difference, veterans who are looking for a career may consider veterans scholarships that will allow them to earn a degree in education. Veterans of all ranks, from generals to enlisted men and women, can do more to put the spotlight on better education for America’s children.
Mission: Readiness is an organization composed of over 200 retired generals and admirals who advocate for early childhood education in America. Lt. Gen. Dennis L. Benchoff of Lancaster, Pa., a member of Mission: Readiness, points out that 50 percent of America’s youth were not qualified to serve in 1980. In just 33 years, that number has jumped to 75 percent. Specifically, 1 in 4 of the nation’s youth cannot serve because they cannot meet educational requirements.
To bolster its mission to improve Pre-K education, Mission: Readiness cites results from a number of different studies showing how Pre-K educational opportunities can affect educational achievement and even life after school.
High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti
Randomly assigned three- and four-year-olds from disadvantaged households in Ypsilanti, Mich., were sent to either a high-quality preschool or had no intervention. The project demonstrated the following results:
Half of the children who attended preschool performed at a basic level or better in school by age 14. Only 15 percent of those who did not attend could demonstrate basic competencies.
Children who went to preschool were 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school. Across the U.S., 1 in 4 students does not graduate from high school on time.
By age 27, residents who had attended preschool were five times less likely to be criminal offenders as those who did not attend preschool.
Abecedarian Home Visiting and Preschool Program in North Carolina
The methodology for the Abecedarian experiment was similar to that of the High/Scope experiment. After randomly assigning disadvantaged preschoolers to receive either preschool education or no intervention, researchers found that:
Children served by Abecedarian were four times more likely to be attending a four-year college by age 21.
Children not served by Abecedarian were 75 percent more likely to be held back in school.
Child-Parent Centers in Chicago
Based on observations of 100,000 children served by the Child-Parent Centers preschool program, statistics show that:
Children who did not go through the program were 70 times more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18. If convicted, none of these young people would be allowed to serve in the military.
Children left out of the program were 20 percent more likely to be placed in foster care.
Participants were 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school.
Preparing the Next Generation for Service
Mission: Readiness estimates that when a child drops out of high school and becomes a career criminal, society pays over $2.5 billion per child. Also, the U.S. pays over $20 billion per year to provide foster care for disadvantaged and troubled children. In addition to improving military readiness, Pre-K education can potentially save society a significant amount of money. For instance, Mission: Readiness suggests that the High/Scope Project saved the Ypsilanti school district nearly $250,000.
While many other education reforms need to be made in this country, few have shown as much promise as the availability of a high-quality preschool education to every child. Studies suggest that for every dollar invested in Pre-K education, America receives a $16 return. Mission: Readiness generals and admirals continue to take their message across the U.S. Hopefully, lawmakers and voters are ready to listen.
About the Author: Carol Walker is an early childhood educator who frequently writes about educational policy. As a consultant, she helps preschools to evaluate their effectiveness and to develop strategies for improvement.