By: Dave Morley
Chair - Early Childhood Task Force
The future success of our economy depends on well-educated and highly resourceful workers capable of learning new skills so that they remain competitive in a continually changing global market. The focus on early childhood is the newest effort of the Education and Workforce Development Task Force.
Too often early childhood education is considered a nice “add-on” but its real value is not appreciated. Brain research shows that the foundations built in the first five years of life define the potential for that child later. Additionally, economic research shows that investment in early childhood education has the highest return of all education interventions. Longitudinal studies lasting forty years demonstrate that investments in early childhood education return sixteen to one on every dollar invested and have an eight percent internal rate of return.
One example is reading. Education success is built on reading. Our children learn to read through third grade and read to learn the rest of their lives. In fact, third grade reading is one of the most important predictors of high school graduation. In our state, twenty-eight percent of all public school students are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Low-income students fair worse with fifty-seven percent reading below the proficient level by the end of third grade. This contributes to twenty-five percent of our kids not graduating from high school.
The foundations for reading are set in the first years of life. Cumulative vocabulary is a predictor of third grade reading. At twenty-four months of age, children of lower income have approximately two-thirds the vocabulary of higher income children. By thirty-six months the gap has widened so that poor children have approximately one third the vocabulary of those of higher income. And this is only one measure of early childhood development, among several others, all demonstrating the importance of early experiences to later academic achievement.
The good news is we can do something about this. There are well documented, evidenced based programs that can change the educational potential of our youngest citizens. The goal of the Early Education Initiative of the Education and Workforce Development Task Force is to help local decision makers navigate the world of early childhood education. We are developing a roadmap for parents, community leaders and educators to guide decisions regarding early education and care for their communities. We hope to elucidate the various areas they can make a difference in educational outcomes, help them find the appropriate programs to meet their desired goals and understand the financial and implementation issues they will encounter. The returns will be substantial.