To the Editor:
I am pleased to see the percentage of Illinois children entering kindergarten adequately prepared in reading, math and social-emotional skills has grown for the second consecutive year, according to the latest data released by the Illinois State Board of Education. However, with only 29% of youngsters fully prepared in all three of these areas, we still have a long way to go.
As a member of Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit network of over 750 retired admirals and generals nationwide, I remain concerned about this data — especially when I consider yet another figure. Only 30% of young Illinoisans — aged 17-24 — can qualify for military service. The remainder are too poorly educated, overweight, and/or have a criminal record disqualifying them. High-quality early childhood education is one answer — a research-proven method to help better prepare youth for any future civilian career, college, or military-service path.
Research shows that children’s early development, even before kindergarten, helps them achieve academic success, physical, mental, and emotional wellness, and thus opens further opportunities as they become adults. If kids don’t enter kindergarten prepared, it’s a lot harder for them to catch up.
In Southern Illinois, nearly half of our region's school districts fall at or below the state average of kindergarten preparedness. In my home of Alexander County, fewer than 20% of students enter kindergarten fully prepared. To continue our progress, state leaders must continue investment in early learning, in order to fully prepare our youth for success now, and down the line.