President Bush's top reading adviser called on Maryland lawmakers yesterday to put more resources into early childhood education, particularly to install full-day kindergarten statewide.
"It will be very difficult to make progress and catch up in a piecemeal process," said G. Reid Lyon, director of reading research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Lyon - dubbed Bush's "reading czar" for his influence on the president's initiatives in teaching reading - said Maryland is ahead of many other states in building programs to prepare 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children for learning to read when they enter school.
Nevertheless, a study released by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick last year found that 40 percent of children entering Maryland public kindergarten programs were ill-prepared socially and academically.
"Unless we begin to formulate a comprehensive full-day kindergarten program, most of these kids are going to continue to have problems," Lyon told a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. "There's no doubt about it."
President Bush's education reform plan triples federal spending on reading programs, including $975 million for grants to Maryland and other states.
Lyon said that if resources are limited, full-day kindergarten ought to be focused first on children who come from poverty. "Research has found that a 3-year-old from an affluent family has more of a vocabulary than does a welfare parent interacting with their 3-year-old," said Lyon, who has been a consultant to Grasmick on reading reform.
Mandatory full-day kindergarten has been steadily picking up support in Maryland. It is backed by the state school board, and the Thornton Commission has made it a critical part of its plan to increase public school spending by $1.1 billion over five years.
But there is not any extra funding for expanding full-day kindergarten in the governor's budget proposal for next year.
About 44 percent of Maryland's kindergartners are in full-day programs, and several counties have installed it in all of their schools - including Caroline, Garrett and Prince George's counties.
Prince George's Superintendent Iris T. Metts - who made full-day kindergarten countywide in one of her first major initiatives as superintendent - told lawmakers it is making a critical difference for the youngest children in her system.