May 05, 2013

Early childhood education: something else WV is getting right

As I mentioned in an earlier post, some good things have happened recently at the policy level in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. One big one of course was Medicaid expansion as announced by Governor Tomblin last week. Prison reform was another. Restoring funding for child care and family violence programs was another.

But one possible game changer has been largely unnoticed. During the regular 2013 legislative session, much controversy surrounded SB 359, the governor's education reform bill. Teacher's organizations went back and forth with legislators and administration officials in an effort to arrive at a livable compromise, an effort I supported

But one provision of the bill that wasn't controversial at all was its best feature: a major expansion of early childhood education. According to the bill's text,

Beginning no later than the school year 2012-2013, and continuing thereafter, county boards shall provide early childhood education programs for all children who have attained the age of four prior to September 1 for the school year in which the pupil enters the early childhood education program. Beginning no later than school year 2016-2017, and continuing thereafter, early childhood education programs that are full day and five days per week shall be available to all children meeting the age requirement set forth in the subsection.
Why is that a big deal? According to the Center for American Progress,

Studies show that high-quality early childhood education can significantly improve a child's preliteracy, prewriting, and premath skills. Children in Tennessee's state-funded pre-K program, for example, saw a 75 percent improvement in letter-word identification, a 152 percent improvement in oral comprehension, a 176 percent improvement in picture vocabulary, and a 63 percent improvement in quantitative concepts, compared to children not in pre-K.
The New York Times reports that research conducted by economist James Heckman and others finds that

... investment in early education of disadvantaged children pays extremely high returns down the road. It improves not only their cognitive abilities but also crucial behavior traits like sociability, motivation and self esteem.
Studies that have followed children through their adult lives confirm enormous payoffs for these investments, whether measured in improved success in college, higher income or even lower incarceration rates.
Heckman himself, in a paper titled The Economics of Inequality: The Value of Early Childhood Education, sums up his findings in this way:

Since inequality starts at or before birth, it can and should be corrected at or before birth with the resource of early childhood and parental education. Evidence shows that supplementing the family environments of disadvantaged children with educational resources is an effective and cost-efficient way to provide equal opportunity, achievement, and economic success...
The logic is quite clear from an economic standpoint. We can invest early to close disparities and prevent achievement gaps, or we can pay to remediate disparities when they are harder and more expensive to close.  Either way we are going to pay. And, we'll have to do both for a while. But, there is an important difference between the two approaches. Investing early allows us to shape the future; investing later chains us to fixing the missed opportunities of the past. 
Controlling our destiny is more in keeping with the American spirit. 
 So congratulations, West Virginia, for getting something else right.

1 comment:

early childhood education said...

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