Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, who has played a pivotal role in bringing the Educare model of early childhood centers to California, addressed the convention in plenary session on how to effectively combine the power of private-sector innovation, research and public resources.
“My job now,” she said, after years of work in California “is to convince Congress that it cannot do its job if children are not prepared for school when they enter kindergarten.”
By the time a child is five, she noted, he or she has gain 80 percent of their brain weight. After that, what is called “pruning” begins. How the process of pruning is managed determines a child’s capacity for learning.
She addressed the importance of understanding children’s brain development as it relates to the ability to learn. Furthermore, the social and emotional skills learned early on, research has shown, presages the potential for success in later years, as longitudinal studies over 50 years have shown.
A video was shown based on the work of Dr. James Heckman at the University of Chicago. He rejects the idea that test scores should be the principle measuring tool for evaluating learning. The traits of self-control and deferred gratification, Heckman avers, are indicators of learning ability and success over time.
Perry noted that 46 percent of children in the U.S. are living below the poverty level.
Over 50 percent of children are not participating in any childcare whatsoever, resulting from both a lack of access and a lack of quality in existing facilities.
Dr. Heckman’s research revealed that there is far too little public investment in the early years and a disproportionate amount in elders.
To support student outcomes, she offered, requires well-trained teachers, small group sizes, full schooldays, comprehensive-services, and parent engagement.