With all of the press and discussion about Occupy Wall Street and the 99% I was very interested in this article, http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/opinion/occupy-the-classroom.xml, when it was sent to me. Occupy the Classroom? I had to know what the author was going to discuss. After all, education is a controversial and big issue in this country. I am of the opinion that some well thought out education reforms not generated by politicians but educators can be incredibly beneficial. This sentence is one of many powerful ones in the article, “But the single step that would do the most to reduce inequality has nothing to do with finance at all. It’s an expansion of early childhood education.” So, changing tax structures and regulations is helpful but not the most helpful. Interesting.
Yet, our kids are suffering from the deep budget cuts that have swept education. Particularly, in the field of early childhood education. Now how about this to back up the need to fund early childhood education, “James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, has shown that investments in early childhood education pay for themselves. Indeed, he argues that they pay a return of 7 percent or more – better than many investments on Wall Street.”
In a time when our nation is facing intense competition from other countries, a great increase in class division, and large gaps in student performance based on ethnic groups and gender how can we possibly cut funding? It makes no sense to me. Particularly funding related to Early Childhood. “Schooling after the second grade plays only a minor role in creating or reducing gaps,” Heckman argues in an important article this year in American Educator. “It is imperative to change the way we look at education. We should invest in the foundation of school readiness from birth to age 5.”
Prior to staying at home I worked in a Title 1 school in Florida and a Charter School in Harlem. I have seen class differences, teen mothers, and single parents. I have seen kids arrive to Kindergarten not knowing any letters, how to spell or write their name, or how to approach conflict with others. Yet, they are expected to read books in 186 school days. While a daunting task this can be possible – with a strong group of educators, a strong belief that every child can succeed, and if you are lucky some support from the family. I often wondered what my students were doing prior to arriving at Kindergarten. Many Early Childhood programs, such as Head Start, are optional. From the Office of Head Start it is defined as, “a Federal program for preschool children from low-income families. The Head Start program is operated by local non-profit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. They also receive free medical and dental care, have healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy playing indoors and outdoors in a safe setting. Head Start helps all children succeed. Services are offered to meet the special needs of children with disabilities. Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Services are also available to infants and toddlers in selected sites.” Another interesting point, “One of the Harvard scholars I interviewed, David Deming, compared the outcomes of children who were in Head Start with their siblings who did not participate. Professor Deming found that critics were right that the Head Start advantage in test scores faded quickly. But, in other areas, perhaps more important ones, he found that Head Start had a significant long-term impact: the former Head Start participants are significantly less likely than siblings to repeat grades, to be diagnosed with a learning disability, or to suffer the kind of poor health associated with poverty. Head Start alumni were more likely than their siblings to graduate from high school and attend college.” All of this from children attending Head Start programming!? This seems a much more productive alternative. After all, if they graduate from high school and attend college one would hope they would become involved in a positive lifestyle. We need to encourage families to use Head Start and view Early Childhood education as more than babysitting or optional. It is imperative for their success!
I will end with this, “ the question isn’t whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it. We can pay for prisons or we can pay, less, for early childhood education to help build a fairer and more equitable nation.”