Making the Case for Early Education

A recent The New York Times Op-Ed makes, as the Times describes it, “the business case for early childhood education.”  The article does have a business slant but its points seem more to be “the rational, common sense case” for supporting early education than only the business case.  Authors John E. Pepper and James M. Zimmerman, corporate executives with an interest in education who are strong supporters of universal pre-Kindergarten, make clear, compelling, well-documented points:

(The Business Case)

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, found in a 2010 report that “for every dollar invested [in early childhood education] today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 in the years ahead.” Research by the University of Chicago economist James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate, points to a 7- to 10-percent annual return on investment in high-quality preschool.

(The Long-Range Benefit Case)

Local examples of the impact of early childhood education abound. In greater Cincinnati, a program called Success by 6 has raised the proportion of children testing as “ready to read” upon entering kindergarten to 57 percent, from 44 percent in the 2006-7 academic year. Of those children, 85 percent still read at (or above) age level at the end of third grade — compared with only 43 percent of the children who do not test as “ready to read” when they start kindergarten.

(The In-Case-You-Haven’t-Yet-Grasped-the-Significance-of-This Case)

Children who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than children who read at or above grade level — and 13 times more likely, if they live in poverty. A child’s brain grows to roughly 85 percent of its full capacity in the first five years of life. These are also the years when a child’s sense of what is possible is being formed.

Perhaps the key point they make, however, is buried mid-way through the article: “To be sure, the debate over preschool is also partly a debate over inequality.”

Yes.  The line drawn between families that can afford quality early education for their children and those who cannot.  Because, quite often, there isn’t a debate over whether preschool is helpful or important but over whether we, as a country, will ensure that all children have access to that helpful and important resource, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay for it.

As a Promise Neighborhood, we whole-heartedly support strengthening and expanding early childhood services.  Our early learning network is a cornerstone of our initiative and our longest-lived direct service work.  We are committed to continuing our efforts in this area, and are thrilled by the ongoing growth and strengthening of our Early Childhood Working Group.  At the same time, we recognize that the need we see in Sunset Park, the need we see mirrored in communities around the country, requires a larger-scale collaborative focus, and we are committed to fostering and furthering the policy discussion on the local, state and federal level.

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