America is five years too late when it comes to developing the full potential of all its children. Education starts at birth—not in kindergarten. Our children’s brains develop most rapidly between birth and age five. That is the most critical and effective time to lay the foundation for later learning, achievement and adult productivity.
Every child needs quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, not every child gets it. Too many children come from disadvantaged families that lack the education, health, social skills and economic resources to provide effective early learning to their children. These situations produces costly consequences for the child, the family and society.
The growing need for special education. Rising high school dropout rates. Teenage pregnancy. Adverse health conditions. Chronic unemployment and underemployment. Costly remediation programs. Budget busting economic and health supports. These major economic and social problems are caused by low levels of cognitive skills and character abilities that are directly linked to poor early childhood development from birth to age five.
Early nurturing, learning experiences and physical health from birth to age greatly impact success or failure throughout one’s life. Quality early childhood education packages cognitive skills with the character skills necessary for later achievement—attentiveness, persistence, motivation, self-control and team work. This is the foundation on which children build their lives, families build their upward mobility and the nation builds a stronger, more resilient and adaptable workforce.
We can build a better US by investing in improving the earliest and most critical opportunity for disadvantaged children and their families. Groundbreaking work by Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman has proven that investing in early childhood education for disadvantaged children is more life and cost effective than remediation and the expense of fixing chronic social problems. In fact, Heckman shows that early childhood education delivers returns of 7-10 % per year, per child through greater economic productivity and the reduction of costs in education, health and criminal justice expenditures.
The facts are clear: start by providing all disadvantaged children high quality early childhood education and you’ll finish with a better US for everyone.