GOOD

Why Early Childhood Education Matters

States are grappling with whether to eliminate preschool, as education dollars shrink. Do we fund early childhood education now, or pay more later?

As education dollars shrink, states are grappling with whether to eliminate preschool. Do we fund early childhood education now, or pay more later?

As school bells rang for the first time this fall, thousands of preschoolers were left on the sidelines because state funding cuts forced their classrooms to close. And the sad fact is that most of these young children left behind by budget cuts will never catch up to their classmates.


Why do early learning programs matter? Advances in brain research show that children are born learning, and that their first years of life impact the success they experience later in school. Early experiences that are nurturing and active actually thicken the cortex of an infant’s brain, creating a brain with more extensive and sophisticated neuron structures that later determine intelligence and behavior. It also means that children who are exposed to more language and more caring interaction with adults have an advantage over their peers that grow up in stressful environments or have unresponsive caregivers.

The first five years are also when children build the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in school. On the first day of kindergarten, teachers expect children to be able to follow directions, start and finish projects, and know when they need to ask for help. Such “soft” skills are just as important as cognitive or “hard” skills—like being able to count, recite the alphabet, and write their names.

If a child can’t follow directions, he or she will have difficulty attending to the task of learning. Young children build these social-emotional skills through responsive relationships with parents and teachers. When children trust their caregivers to respond consistently to their needs, they learn to regulate their emotions and behavior. Strong social-emotional skills are the foundation of lifelong learning, which in future years help students succeed in school and adults hold steady jobs.

While most middle- and upper-income children have nurturing early experiences, children in poverty often live in chaotic environments. Low-income parents may struggle to find a job or pay the bills and consequently don’t have the means or time to create a stimulating learning environment for their young children. This inequality in opportunity leads to the achievement gap that is evident as early as nine months of age (PDF) and continues to inhibit students’ progress throughout elementary school and beyond.

There is no proven strategy to close the achievement gap during the K-12 school years. But high-quality early childhood education programs prevent the achievement gap from forming. Decades of research on programs such as the High/Scope Perry Preschool and Chicago Parent-Child Centers show that high-quality early childhood programs for vulnerable children increase childhood literacy and high school graduation rates, not to mention reducing crime and teenage pregnancy. Disadvantaged children who don’t participate in high-quality early education programs are 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education and 25 percent more likely to drop out of school. They are 60 percent more likely to never attend college, 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, and 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent.

Leading economists say that early childhood education is a sound public investment, even during a recession. Every dollar spent on early learning programs for at-risk children yields $7 to $9 in future savings on expenditures like special education and the criminal justice system. Early learning programs can also improve America’s competitiveness in a global economy. “The potential return from a focused, high-quality early childhood development program is as high as 16 percent per year,” writes Arthur J. Rolnick, formerly of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. That kind of return is rarely seen in the private sector. The gains come from a more educated workforce that earns higher wages and contributes productively to the economy.

States around the country are grappling with the decision of whether or not to fund preschool as education dollars shrink. Arizona has proposed eliminating its preschool program entirely. California’s lack of a state budget has forced schools to drop some preschool students. In Illinois, where the state can’t afford to pay last year’s bills for preschool programs, school districts are canceling programs or struggling to pay for them with local dollars. States may justify preschool cuts by saying tough choices need to be made in tough economic times, but what they are really doing is creating a lost generation of children who will cost governments far more in expensive remedial education programs and other social interventions in the years to come.

While federal dollars for early education programs, such as Head Start, Early Head Start and home visiting programs, have increased slightly during President Obama’s administration, they still reach only a small percentage of eligible children.

The question elected officials and the public must confront is simple: Do we fund early childhood education now, or pay a lot more later for the costly social problems that result when children are not successful in school?

Diana Mendley Rauner is executive director of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which works to ensure that all American children have quality early childhood experiences during the first five years of life.

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health