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In an effort to maximize educational gains, educators and policymakers are placing more importance on the early education of the 19 million children in the United States under the age of 5.
The first few years of life are critical for a child's cognitive development and learning. Evaluations of well-run prekindergarten programs have found that children exposed to high-quality early education were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, or need special education, compared with similar children who did not have such exposure (Barnett, 1998). Yet despite research linking good pre-K programs with later academic success, early care and education in the United States is essentially a nonsystem consisting of a "patchwork of programs" (Shore, 2002).