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Early Childhood Education
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March 1, 2013
Maryland educators have been voices in the wilderness on the issue of early childhood education, so they’re happy to have a new ally, the President. WYPR’s Fraser Smith reports.
Public education in the United States today begins at least a year too late, according to education experts. The nation is missing a period in which the young brain develops as much as 80 percent of its capacity to absorb and process information.
So for years, education policy makers in Maryland have been urging the sort of transformation President Obama called for during his recent State of Union address. Among these advocates is the former state school superintendent Nancy Grasmick.
Academic studies and experience over years has shown that American’s education system misses opportunities that cannot be recaptured. Reaction to plans for bridging the gap has often been greeted with scorn.
“For many years people yawned and said ‘Well that’s just play. There’s nothing that productive that will come of this. Why spend the money? We’re sort of grabbing these children out of the arms of their mothers.”
Similar experiences are reported by Margaret Williams, executive director of the Maryland Family Network. Undeterred, she has pushed for recognition of how early childhood education will dramatically improve both individuals and society.
“The earlier you start the research is pretty clear that children who do not speak English at home and children with special needs – with all these populations the earlier you start the more dramatic the impact of special care and education programs.”
Some have worried that three-year-olds will be put to work on subjects that block the creative advantages of play. Grasmick says it won’t.
“That’s why this program of certification means you have to meet certain standards. If you meet those standards that isn’t going to happen."
What is going to happen is remarkable says Professor James Heckman, a Nobel laureate in economics at the University of Chicago. He expressed the benefits recently on the Diane Rehm Show.
“This class of program has a very unusual quality. It simultaneously is economically efficient… It pays off at 7 to 10 percent per annum for each dollar invested. Secondly, it actually reduced inequality and promotes social mobility so it’s both equity improving and efficiency improving.”
Marylanders have taken the argument a step further. When he was in the Maryland House of Delegates, Mark Shriver saw an opportunity to advance the antipoverty/education work of his late father and mother, Sargent and Eunice Shriver.
“We realized as a state we weren’t gathering data on whether the state and federal investments were making an impact on kids. We set up a testing system to see if kids were entering kindergarten read to learn and that results in resources spent where kids were not entering kindergarten ready to compete against their peers. Not only in this country but around the world.”
Shriver, now head of Save the Children, an anti-poverty and pro education organization, does not think the president envisions an enormous new bureaucracy, He lays down a challenge to those who say they want to invest in children.
“So many politicians and so many people who are not in politics say kids are our most valuable resource yet when the rubber meets the road, people are not willing to invest in our children – particularly poor kids that are going to need that helping hand to enter kindergarten ready to learn.”
All the more reason for a program – such as ones in the United Kingdom and other countries – where young children get help they need when they need it most.
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