"When they enter kindergarten ready to thrive with all the social, emotional and cognitive skills, they perform at grade level or above," [Ayala] said. "When they don't, that's where that achievement gap starts."
Kids without that early boost have been shown to be more likely to get special-needs services, be held back a grade or two, get in trouble with the law and become teen parents. Preschool alumni have a better chance, she said.
"Those who go to preschool will go on to university, will have a graduate education, and their income level will radically improve," she said.
Dr. Ayala and other early-education advocates participated in a Washington panel on preschools earlier this month, arguing that days spent with Play-Doh could hold the key to job success in adult life.
Fewer than half of American children attend preschool, with the rest either staying at home with parents or attending day care programs.
Image: Girl at preschool, via Shutterstock.