Education / 2013
Jumpstart: Preschool Changes Everything
Over 20,000 Angelinos enter the modern economy every year without a high school degree. It is simply unacceptable that in a city as wealthy and vibrant as ours, countless children go their entire lives without receiving an adequate education. It’s not just that they are not reaching their potential; they are not even coming close. As a community, we are failing these children. Think that’s scary? Now consider this. Many children are already so far behind by the age of five (no, that’s not a typo), that they are unlikely ever to catch up. This is nothing less than a catastrophe. Children whose parents have a low-income begin kindergarten up to 60% behind their more affluent peers – and 74% of the LAUSD student body is economically disadvantaged. The only silver lining in this heartbreaking story is that we have already discovered the most impactful, cost-effective solution to this problem devastating our city. The answer is high-quality early education. Investments in high-quality early education transform lives and yield extraordinary social returns. This has been validated by extensive academic research and highlighted by leading policymakers. For example, according to the seminal High/Scope Perry Preschool Study, children who participate in high-quality early education programs are more likely to read at grade level, thrive in school, and graduate than those who do not. They are also less likely to become involved with the justice system or need special instruction, which means that, according to University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate, James Heckman, every dollar invested in early childhood education produces a 10% annual return for the life of the child. During his February 13 State of the Union Address, President Obama cited such studies to underscore the powerful impact of investments in high-quality early education. There are two major problems when it comes to early education in Los Angeles: access and quality. Later in this proposal we discuss how we think that, together with the Goldhirsh Foundation, we can generate the political will to advance the issue of access for all children. But universal access is not enough. Most children who attend preschool and whose parents have a low-income attend either federally-funded Head Start preschools or state-funded preschools that are under-resourced, and as a result have a lower level of quality. They have high child-to-adult ratios and do not have as many books and learning resources as they should. In addition, low salaries compel many excellent preschool teachers to leave the profession to pursue careers that offer a living wage. Our focus is on these children, who are in preschool, but need additional support to have experiences comparable to those that middle-class and affluent kids have. These children cannot wait for universal access; they need a first-class education today. Jumpstart is a remarkable public-private partnership that leverages the resources of government agencies, LA’s leading foundations, cutting-edge corporations, universities, and preschools to provide high-quality early education to children and families who need it most – and it only costs $2,000 per child. Jumpstart’s proposal is to implement one semester of the Jumpstart program in five Los Angeles preschool classrooms. Here’s how it works. Step 1: We identify preschools that serve children whose parents have low-incomes because we know that family income is a leading indicator of children’s readiness for kindergarten. The lower your family’s income, the less likely you will be ready for school. Furthermore, children whose parents have a low-income are more likely to attend schools that are ill-equipped to meet their needs. Step 2: We collaborate with nearby universities. Why universities? Because universities have motivated, passionate students who have the capacity to give back. Step 3: We train our college-student volunteers – nearly 400 of them in LA County and 78 at UCLA – to implement Jumpstart’s highly intentional, research-based program. Jumpstart’s curriculum, which reflects best practices in early childhood education and has been informed by 20 years of experience – is targeted to develop the language, literacy, and social skills that children need to begin kindergarten prepared to succeed. What else do we need besides a proven curriculum and talented adults with the time and motivation to help children? Step 4: Money! It’s always time and money, isn’t it? Through partnerships with AmeriCorps and the Federal Work Study program, we pay a significant portion of our program costs with dollars that have already been allocated to support college students – and we maximize those public investments by putting them where they can have the greatest impact: high-quality early education. Want to know the best part? Our program works. Children who receive the Jumpstart program have outperformed a comparison group for 10 years.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Jumpstart Los Angeles has achieved rapid growth over the past several years and become one of the leading early childhood organizations in the region. Since hiring our first executive director in 2009, we have grown from a small program serving fewer than 300 children to serve more than 1,200 children annually. Through partnerships with leading universities, early education providers, and school districts, along with support from the funding community, Jumpstart has quickly established a strong reputation in the community.
Jumpstart’s program at UCLA, founded in 2009, is among our best and enjoys support among the school’s faculty and administration. Now in its fourth year, Jumpstart at UCLA engages more than 70 college students each year. UCLA hosts two full-time, paid Jumpstart staff members who work on-campus and have developed strong partnerships with leading early education providers, including Los Angeles Unified School District, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Neighborhood Youth Association in Venice.
Nationwide, Jumpstart has trained more than 25,000 college-student and community volunteers to serve more than 100,000 pre-school children in hundreds of early learning centers, and has been widely recognized as an innovative and impactful organization.
Jumpstart’s program is a model in efficiency. As the organization has grown rapidly since its founding in 1993, Jumpstart has consistently decreased the cost per child-served hour from $35 to $7, a reduction of over two-thirds in fewer than 10 years. The Stanford Social Innovation Review found that Jumpstart has reduced its costs by at least 6% annually, while simultaneously achieving substantial growth. Numerous organizations have recognized Jumpstart with awards that highlight its creative partnerships and effective programs: • Alfred P Sloan Award for Workplace Flexibility and Effectiveness (2012) • Independent Charities of America “Best in America” seal (2012) • Charity Navigator’s 4-Star Rating for effectiveness, efficiency, and fiscal integrity (2006-2012) • Cause Marketing Forum’s Halo Award for Jumpstart’s Read for the Record campaign (2007, 2009) • AmeriCorps Spirit of Service Award (in conjunction with Pearson) (2008) • Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builder Award (2007) • Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration (2007) • Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy’s Directors Award (2004) • Fast Company/Monitor Social Capitalist Award (every year since its inception in 2004)
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
We know we don’t have all of the answers, so we work in concert with teachers, parents, and caregivers to ensure that we provide children with the best possible education.
We work with leading school districts and early education providers, which provide access to children and families in need and knowledge of the unique challenges faced by the young children whose lives we are seeking to alter.
Finally, we partner with UCLA and six other universities in LA County to implement the Jumpstart program. UCLA possesses a wealth of education expertise and talented, passionate students.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Our mission is to work toward the day that every child in Los Angeles walks into their first day of kindergarten prepared to succeed, and everything we do is geared toward ensuring that the children who take part in our programs leave as prepared as possible.
We measure our success by the kindergarten readiness gains children make throughout the course of our program. We then compare these results to those of a comparison group of children from nearby neighborhoods. We’ve been doing this for ten years and the results speak for themselves.
Using Jumpstart’s School Success Checklist, a sophisticated evaluation tool based on the best research in the field, we test children three times yearly against fifteen developmental metrics focused on language and literacy development. On average, children in Southern California make gains of more than 1.5 developmental levels throughout the course of the program. As a result, children who participate in the Jumpstart program have outperformed a comparison group in each of the ten years we have conducted such studies, and our results are stronger in Southern California than anywhere else in the country.
We’re also sensitive to our community’s unique needs. You don’t have to be a life-long Angelino to know that our city is home to many children who speak a language other than English at home. In fact, more than half of the children we serve in Los Angeles and nearly a third of all students enrolled in Los Angeles Unified School District are English language learners.
We also know that the early years are particularly important for this population of students, so we’ve been segmenting our results by language spoken at home for the past two years – and the results have been eye-opening.
Each year, children who spoke Spanish only or English and Spanish at home started the program well behind English-only speakers. By the end of the program, however, Spanish-only speakers had narrowed the achievement gap significantly and bilingual ELLs finished the program year ahead of their English-only counterparts. This year, we will commission a research project to delve deeper into our success educating ELLs and we look forward to learning more.
The college students who take part in Jumpstart benefit tremendously as well. We pre- and post-test all of our college-student volunteers and have found that Jumpstart increases their leadership skills; helps them succeed academically; and inspires many of them to pursue careers in teaching and service.
For example, last year more than two-thirds of Jumpstart’s volunteers at UCLA reported that the program helped them succeed academically. At the same time, more than half of our volunteers intended to pursue a career in teaching, most of them at the early childhood level. Inspiring young people at great schools like UCLA to pursue careers in early education is another way that we work toward our mission of ensuring that every child enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
The benefits of our project are both short-term and long-term for Jumpstart’s children and families, as well as the Los Angeles community.
In the short-term, the children we serve will get the type of education that wealthier kids get, laying a foundation for success throughout the rest of their lives. One hundred children will benefit from Jumpstart’s intensive program, designed to promote the language, literacy and social development that children need to succeed. The cornerstone of the Jumpstart program is the Jumpstart session, a 2-hour period during the school day in which our volunteers lead a series of highly-intentional, structured activities that develop children’s vocabularies, promote their oral language skills, and introduce them to fundamental concepts across a range of subjects that they will need to understand in order to begin kindergarten prepared.
Meanwhile, the communities we serve will also benefit from the books and resources that Jumpstart provides – both in the classrooms it serves and in the homes of children and families. By hosting literacy-themed events in the community and through regular communication with parents and caregivers, we will also share strategies for how to incorporate learning and literacy into everyday life.
In the long-term, given the extraordinary returns of investments in early education, the children we serve today will live healthier, more fulfilling lives and Los Angeles will derive the ensuing social and economic benefits.
But, by partnering with you, we have a chance to attack the problems of both access and quality. Providing disadvantaged children with an excellent early education experience is the best way to get Los Angeles where it needs to be. However, despite what the Los Angeles 2050 Report calls an “obvious payback on investment,” early education does not receive the funding it needs and is perpetually in danger of being cut. For example, according to ECEWORKS!, a project of First 5 Los Angeles, “90% of brain development happens before the fifth birthday. [But] over 95% of education dollars are spent on programs for kids older than five.”
The challenge is to generate support for the importance of both greater access and higher quality early education experiences for disadvantaged children in Los Angeles. Jumpstart and the Goldhirsh Foundation are natural partners in this endeavor. Jumpstart possesses immense knowledge about early education and child development, a proven program, and partnerships with many of LA’s leading universities and early education providers. Meanwhile, the Goldhirsh Foundation has earned a reputation as LA’s singularly innovative grant maker and convener. Most importantly, the Goldhirsh Foundation has the platform to broadcast our work together, mobilize support for early education in LA, and work with community leaders to develop a metrics-based, collective impact approach to addressing this problem, which is at the root of so many others.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
If you attended a well-resourced preschool as a child, then success in the year 2050 will look a lot like you. One hundred children will have received a semester of high-quality early education and, as a result, they are more likely to have gone on to graduate from high school, attend college, and live healthy, productive lives. There is overwhelming evidence that high-quality early education has this kind of impact, and that, as a result, society as a whole benefits from having better citizens, smarter workers, and stronger families.
More broadly, success in 2050 would look like a Los Angeles in which access to high-quality early education is universal. Every family would have the opportunity to enroll their child in a preschool equipped to provide them with the skills they need to walk into their first day of kindergarten prepared to succeed.
The first step toward this goal is to provide every child with access to preschool. This is an imperative that enjoys broad support among economists and policymakers who have looked at the evidence, including President Obama.
According to the Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA 2050 Report, “In Los Angeles County, less than one-fifth of pre-school aged children are enrolled in early education programs,” depriving thousands of children opportunities to narrow the achievement gap that has already developed between themselves and their more affluent peers. Without these opportunities, children are falling behind every day and, in many cases, struggling to catch up for the rest of their lives.
The good news is that it is possible for all children to receive a high-quality preschool education. We know what skills children need to acquire during the preschool years and we know how to develop them. We also know that there is no better investment in our economy, our community, and our children than universal, high-quality preschool education. Investments in the early years will lead to better life outcomes for individuals and better economic and social outcomes for our community.
All we need is your support.