“We have lots of evidence that putting investments in early childhood education, even evidence from very hard-nosed economists, is one of the very best investments that the society can possibly make.”
-Alison Gopnic, Child Development Psychologist
This year, our annual conference reached enrollment capacity before it was even advertised. Why? Because the topic is early childhood education. Let’s look at why early childhood education has become such an important topic today.
Well-designed preschool programs are beneficial for all children, but there is a tremendous need for high-quality early learning experiences for young children from impoverished circumstances. According to the National Center on Poverty, poverty is the single greatest threat to a child’s well being–adversely affecting learning and contributing to a multitude of social, emotional, physical and behavioral problems. However, success stories show us that these gaps can be overcome with the right early interventions.
There are many short-term preschool analyses that demonstrate gains for children who participated in early education programs. All of these studies illustrate the impact of early childhood programming on children. Children who participate in language-rich, well-designed preschool experiences reap the benefit of these programs throughout their school careers and into adulthood. During the preschool years when the brain is developing so rapidly, children learn the cognitive and character skills essential for success in school, health, career and life. Society also benefits from having more productive citizens who are educated, employed, and self-sufficient.
Stop Gaps Early!
Because the experiences of children vary dramatically from the moment that they enter this world, some children, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, begin their lives at a deficit. James Heckman, one of our nation’s top economists studying human development and a Nobel prize winner, has said that there is gap before children walk into kindergarten. Indeed, we know through the research of Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley that there is vocabulary gap that begins at birth. In their groundbreaking research in 1995, they found that children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words heard by children from higher income families. By the time, a child from a low-income family has reached the age of four, that child will be exposed to 30 million less words than a child from a higher income family. If left unchecked, this gap can continue to grow over time.
In 2013, the Stanford University research team of Fernald, Marchman and Weisleder found that the vocabulary gap exists for children as young as 18 months. These researchers tested the language processing of 18 and 24 month old children using pictures, instructions, and eye responses. Again, young children from low-income households performed behind children of the same age from more affluent circumstances.
Currently, the 16 million children living in low-income families are at risk for a lot of academic and social deficits. However, research suggests that we can help children who start out at a disadvantage by investing in high-quality early childhood programs. It’s a critical component for narrowing Connecticut’s achievement gap.
This year, we are advocating for several ways to increase the number of high-quality preschool slots that are eligible to low-income children. Regardless of race or socio-economic status, these children deserve nothing less.