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Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski Espouses Value of Early Education


While President Barack Obama has been championing the cause of scaling up early-childhood programs in recent years, beginning with his 2013 State of the Union address, he gained a new, unlikely ally in that effort last week: Duke men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In an op-ed for Roll Call, Coach K used a basketball analogy to describe how a lack of access to quality early-childhood programs can set young children back by years:

At-risk kids who can't access high-quality preschool experiences face an early deficit of their own—except the stakes are much higher than the outcome of a basketball game.

Without the benefit of quality early education, children's math and literacy skills can be up to 18 months behind those of their more-advantaged peers by the time these kids start kindergarten. Adults may not see an 18-month deficit as insurmountable, but remember that a year and a half represents nearly one-third of a 5-year-old's life.

That's a huge disadvantage. Far worse than being down by 13 points in a basketball game. These children might be scrambling to catch up for the rest of their education—and possibly for the rest of their lives.

That's bad for the children, bad for their teachers and bad for the country.

In the editorial, Krzyzewski praised Congress for taking steps to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, particularly noting an amendment added to the Senate's version of the bill that would increase access to quality preschool programs. He urged Congress "not only to reauthorize the ESEA, but also to include this critical funding stream in the final version."

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., would have created a five-year, federal-state partnership to expand and improve early-learning opportunities for children from birth to age 5, as our own Politics K-12's Lauren Camera reported earlier this month. It would have provided $30 billion for high-quality, full-day preschool for 4-year-olds from families earning below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. However, as Camera reported last Thursday, that particular amendment failed to make it into the version of the ESEA bill that the Senate passed, 81-17.

Though the amendment didn't make it into the Senate's version of the ESEA bill, expanding early-childhood opportunities has been a major focus of Democrats, Obama, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan alike. During a visit to an Alexandria, Va.-based elementary school earlier this year, Duncan called for the ESEA to expand beyond K-12 schooling and include early-childhood education, too. Likewise, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has made an expansion of early-childhood education one of her top priorities during the ESEA overhaul process.

If Duncan, Murray, Obama, and Co. need a cheerleader to appeal to Congress' sensibilities when the two chambers meet to discuss their respective bills, Coach K sounds willing to ring the bell for expanding access to high-quality preschool programs.

Photo: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski sits on the court during the second half of the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament championship game against Wisconsin on in Indianapolis. (David J. Phillip/AP-File)

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