Early Childhood Investments and Economic Progress

This article is a product my wife and I worked on to combine our areas of passion and expertise. I am proud of my wife, Sarah. In addition to being a fantastic wife and great mother to our three children, she has a PhD in Communication Science and Disorders with an emphasis in language and literacy development from Florida State University. She also holds a Masters in Special Education with a Reading Endorsement and a Bachelor in Elementary Education from the University of Florida. She has worked at the Florida Center of Reading Research with published topics related to teacher quality, individualizing student instruction, and student academic outcomes. She has taught in preschool and elementary classrooms, and in higher education.

Our country is at a major crossroads. We are living in a time of major fundamental disagreements over our country’s economic issues and the path to economic prosperity. One thing that both politicians and researchers can agree on: there are far too many young children living in poverty. There are too many young children without access to basic human necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and adequate health care. These children are our future, and yet we are letting the most vulnerable members of our society down.

As a community, there is much that we can do to support them. One thing we can do to support these valuable assets is to provide them with access to high-quality early learning opportunities. These opportunities yield a number of short-term and long-term benefits, from personal to societal. High-quality programs make substantial contributions to the lives of young children and their families, and they yield high returns to society’s investment in them. When more money is spent on high quality early childhood education, the returns to society (and to the children) per dollar spent are higher. This is what makes early childhood education an economic development opportunity for our community. Early childhood education provides multiple economic investments to our community through two different avenues: the return on investment and the act of building human capital.

One thing that early childhood education investment does for our community is stimulate our economy by putting parents back to work. When children are in school, it allows their parents to join the labor force or provide time for parents to go back to school to learn a trade or further their education, thus allowing for greater cognitive, social and behavioral skills. When parents feel confident in their child’s caregiver or school, it creates less stress and more productivity from the parent. Furthermore, with the sense of reliability that comes with higher quality care, parents are less absent from work. This also provides a feeling of satisfaction because they know that their child is well taken care of and they harbor fewer feelings of guilt over leaving their child. Beyond it’s basic level, early childhood education allows our community to move toward greater social equity. A study conducted by the Foundation for Child Development and produced in collaboration with the Society for Research in Child Development states, “The most cost-effective educational interventions…are likely to be profitable investments for society as a whole.”

Research out of the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program found that society saves more than $7 for every $1 invested in preschool.

Building Human Capital

Talent is the new currency in economic development. We live in a knowledge economy where talent is both the driver and the key to our region’s economic prosperity. With emerging economies in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere, America’s economic competitiveness will come from knowledge-based careers, innovation and entrepreneurship. What all these opportunities have in common is the need for an educated workforce in addition to creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. The best investment needed for this result is high-quality early childhood education.

Several studies have measured the outcomes of early childhood education programs. The Abecedarian Project found that young children who receive high-quality care from birth to age five are more likely to stay in school longer, perform better on reading and math assessments and cognitive assessments, graduate from high school and attend a four-year college. The High/Scope Perry Preschool followed 123 high-risk 3- and 4-year-old children and their families and found that by age 40, these adults were more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job, make higher earnings and commit fewer crimes than those who did not attend early childhood settings. The Chicago Child-Parent Center found similar results after following 989 students in the program versus 550 children who did not attend school through eighth grade and found that children who receive high-quality early education do better in school academically, are less likely to drop out of high school, be arrested, repeat grades or be placed in special education services.

Where Do We Go From Here

Early childhood educators cannot do this alone. They need your help and support, even if your child is not in school. During your lunch break or free time, consider becoming a part of Reading Pals, a joint collaboration between the United Way, Women Leadership Initiative, the Children’s Movement and local partners. They are looking for volunteers to dedicate an hour a week for 25 weeks or more to read in individual or small-group settings. Volunteers will be trained and screened before entering the program. The hour you give each week will have an effect that lasts a lifetime. Or, consider calling a local preschool to find out what supplies they need or how you might be able to support our most vulnerable assets.

Clearly, new policies and investments should be considered at every level of government. But, as in any movement, it all starts with you and me.

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