As U.S. Army generals, it was our job to look over the horizon to
determine future challenges and threats to our national security. As
we look over the horizon today, we believe one of the biggest
challenges for our nation is that so many young Americans are simply
not qualified for military service.
Nearly 70 percent of all young people in New Jersey between the ages
of 17 and 24, and over 70 percent nationwide, are unable to join the
military, according to the Department of Defense. The leading reasons
are because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a
record of crime or drug abuse.
Consider these troubling statistics:
than one in four cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for
math, literacy, and problem solving to join.
To address these challenges, we must start early. Children’s earliest
years are a critical time during which the most rapid brain
development happens. This foundation informs their cognition, health,
and behavior throughout life.
Research shows that high-quality early education programs deliver
real, measurable results in improving outcomes for kids. Such programs
can prepare children to start school with critical early math and
reading skills, improve student performance, boost graduation rates,
deter youth from crime, and even reduce obesity rates by instilling
healthy eating and exercise habits at a young age.
For example, a long-term study of the Perry Preschool Program in
Michigan found that children who participated in the program were 44
percent more likely to graduate from high school than children left
out of the program. A similar study of the Chicago Child-Parent
Centers showed that children who did not participate in the program
were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age
A growing body of research also shows that state early education
programs, if they are of high enough quality, can deliver solid
A new, national study from the Upjohn Institute analyzes thousands of
public school district pre-K programs and finds that in states with
high-quality programs, there are benefits persisting to at least
fourth grade, with significant boosts to math scores.
Here in New Jersey, our state-funded preschool program has followed
children through the fourth and fifth grades and found that, compared with a
control group, the children served were three-fourths of a year ahead
in math and two-thirds of a year ahead in literacy. They were also 31
percent less likely to be placed in special education and were held
back 40 percent less often.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research
(NIEER) at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s pre-K program meets 8 out
of 10 quality benchmarks and the state has been a leader in providing
high-quality preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds. However, NIEER also
finds that high-quality preschool is only available in a small percent
of New Jersey school districts because funding and enrollment have
stalled in recent years.
The good news is that New Jersey now has the opportunity to provide
high-quality early education to more children. Gov. Phil Murphy has
proposed additional funding to expand access to pre-K funding in his
budget. We urge state legislators to support this investment in our
children to help them develop in mind, body and character so they can
succeed in school and in life, including in the military for those who
choose to serve.