By Holly Lebowitz Rossi

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"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.

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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.

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