CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Early learning is key to success

It was encouraging to see Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indiana Superintendent of Education Suellen Reed team up recently to offer a plan by which school districts might share resources to free up extra money that could pay for more teachers and classroom resources.

One option suggested for the freed-up funds was statewide fullday kindergarten.

While multiple uses for the money can be found, it’s clear an emphasis on kindergarten is a good way to go, as most experts now agree the adage “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is basically true.

Full-day kindergarten would be a great benefit to the state, but it’s been proven that the time before kindergarten may be even more important. And Indiana is one of the few remaining states that don’t fund preschool.

Study after study has shown that kids who learn more than their peers before kindergarten are more apt to succeed in school and in their careers, and less apt to repeat grades or need special education. It’s called early childhood development.

In a visit to IBJ, IPS Superintendent Eugene White told of a recent trip to Japan where he saw firsthand how seriously that country takes the education of its children and specifically how well-prepared young children were when they entered school. The goal of early-childhood-development programs is to improve a kid’s capacity to develop and learn. Experts agree that children who are ready to learn in school already have the following traits when they arrive: they are socially and emotionally healthy; they have good relationships with other children; they can tackle challenging tasks with persistence; they have good language skills and communicate well; they listen to instructions. But ECD is not just about working with the children. A thorough approach also involves educating and supporting parents and grandparents and developing the talents and capacities of teachers and care givers. Parents should be a high priority. While locally a number of private and parochial schools have developed ECD programs, the trend has not hit the public school world in a significant way, and it’s primarily due to the lack of resources. But our community does have some resources available and some new ones coming on line.

Some recent work by the United Way of Central Indiana underscores the need and the urgency to address ECD. The work is being done under the banner of Success by 6, which promotes the vision that all children enter school ready to succeed.

A national program that’s been in existence since the early ’90s, the mission of Success by 6 is to ensure that all children by age 6 have the social, emotional, language, cognitive and physical well-being to successfully begin school. UWCI launched its effort about a year ago and hired Ted Maple to direct it.

The initial actions have targeted parents, grandparents, teachers and primary care givers with educational campaigns. The messages have been carried through radio, television and print advertisements, as well as through a Web site and a help telephone line (211).

This month, with the help of funding from UWCI and support of the Tennessee-based Dollywood Foundation, Success by 6 will launch Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an incredible program that will provide one hardcover book that’s age-appropriate to any child under 5 who registers in Marion County. By the way, this program is seeking corporate sponsorship.

Also launching this month is Ready Communities, a two-year pilot project in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood whose aim is to demonstrate how the “multiple communities to which young children belong-families, child care [centers]/preschools, schools, faith-based organizations, etc.-can work together to facilitate a smooth transition to kindergarten.”

These are the kinds of nuts-and-bolts programs that will really make a difference in preparing our children for success, which, of course, ensures that Indiana will be in top form to compete globally and to provide a good life for its citizens.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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