Op-Ed: Expand New Jersey’s Pre-K to Strengthen National Security

We urge state legislators to help our children 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

On left: Brigadier General (Ret.) Douglas Satterfield and Major General (Ret.) Steven Hashem
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:

  • Among high school graduates in New Jersey who seek to enlist, more
  • than one in four cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for
    math, literacy, and problem solving to join.

  • One-third of New Jersey youth ages 10-17 are overweight or obese.
  • There are 15 arrests for every 100 young adults ages 17-24 in our state.
  • Starting early

    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
    18.

    A growing body of research also shows that state early education
    programs, if they are of high enough quality, can deliver solid
    results.

    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.