Early Childhood Education and the Large Return on the Investment

High-quality early childhood programs are great economic and social equalizers – they supplement the family lives of disadvantaged children by teaching consistent parenting and by giving children the mentoring, encouragement and support available to functioning middle-class families.” – James J. Heckman, from his September 14th New York Times opinion-piece “Lifelines for Poor Children”

It is a sickening statistic: since 2008, the percentage of children living in poverty in Connecticut has risen 17%. Although Connecticut is better off than the country as a whole, this means that more than one in seven children has lived in poverty since 2012.* In his op-ed piece “Lifelines for Poor Children” James J. Heckman argues that there is evidence to support that early childhood education programs are worth the investment. Studies show that high quality early childhood is not only beneficial to a child’s learning, but also their health and ultimate economic and life outcomes. When we invest into our children, we invest back into our economy on so many levels.

We echo Heckman’s plea to his reader, begging the question “why aren’t we moving forward and changing our ways by making investments in life-changing early childhood development for disadvantaged children”? To take his plea a step further, why are we afraid to make a change in our education system? Why is our attitude toward our children’s education complacent? Why are we allowing politics (and what is “convenient”) to overshadow our children’s futures? President Obama has proposed a complex early childhood education initiative that combines family visitation, infant health and development, early learning and more effective preschooling at ages 4 and 5. This is a shift that we strongly encourage, one that has the potential to bridge the achievement gap we so plainly see in our country and across our state.

Our children should not live in poverty, and they should have access to high-quality learning and education to put them on a fast track to success. Let’s build our children up, educate them and allow them to flourish. Is that not the American Dream?

To read James J. Heckman’s full New York Times Opinionator piece, click here:

To read Mary E. O’Leary’s full New Haven Register article, click here:

*O’Leary, Mary E. “More Kids Living in Poverty.” The New Haven Register 20 Sept. 2013: 1. Print.


U.S. Trying to Catch-up in Early Childhood Learning

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: