In France and other countries, early childhood care is subsidized by the government, with a sliding scale based on income and staffed by caring and capable people. French parents, and by extension their society, embrace free universal public preschool because high value is placed on early childhood learning. These high quality programs are supported by the government as a societal norm, which only serves to highlight where the United States lags behind in terms of our value system.
In her New York Times article "Catching Up With France on Day Care", Paris-based writer Pamela Druckerman references the latest research by Nobel laureate James J. Heckman which confirms that young children's brains and education are shaped early and it is much easier to change the course of that child's learning when they are very young.
Herein lies our problem: American early childhood education is the most expensive in the world, but its quality does not meet the expectation that warrants such a high cost. Our leaders have pledged change in the past, but we are now seeing a multiple-prong approach to Heckman's research. President Obama wants to make sure that all 4 year-olds of low-income families attend pre-kindergarten. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her "Too Small to Fail" project aimed at children from birth to 5 years old.
These changes need to occur soon, as there are still too many children advancing from elementary to middle school that cannot read or write, even by the time they reach high school. Parents and guardians who work full-time to support their families need to know that their young children are in a quality early childhood setting that is safe and thriving. Why is quality care so important? The latest figures indicate that 54% of American women with children age 3 and under are working and 63% of those with children ages 3 to 5.
Druckerman does identify one pocket of America where the French crèche has been adopted, where babies are accepted from 6 weeks old, fees are subsidized and quality is carefully monitored: The Department of Defense (which runs one of the country's largest networks of day care centers).
If we can get it done for the military, why can't we get it done for the rest of the nation?
Read "Catching Up With France on Day Care" by Pamela Druckerman here: