Early Childhood Education – Pathway to Significant Improvement

Kim Burningham 01The needs of education in Utah are many. Today I focus on one avenue particularly valuable in improving education outcomes for children: early childhood education.

Evidence is abundant.  Significant growth in student achievement can be impacted if students begin their formal education early.  Many parents already recognize this truth.  Fortunate parents provide enriching educational experiences for their tots in many forms:  they create suppertime conversation to expose their tiny children to exciting ideas,  they read to them each night, they design valuable educational tours and travel.  Some even set up more formal schooling situations.   Many enroll their children in pre-school classes.  The result is that when these small children enter the public schools they are well on the way to a successful school experience.
Circumstances, however, do not always allow parents to provide such thoughtful exposure.  Many families are “single head-of-household” families.  Parents work long hours and when they get home, they do well to do the laundry and provide food.  Financial restraints make preschool unrealistic.   Additionally, some students have increased challenges as they make transition from a second language to English.  When any of these conditions exist, children begin behind the mark.  They enter school in a “makeup” mode and many never catch up.  When this happens, the children suffer and the public suffers.
When this happens, the children suffer and the public suffers.
Early childhood education is good for children
Research shows that, with high-quality early education, children–
  • Substantially increase their vocabulary and capacity to learn as measured by intelligence tests!
  • Significantly improve their academic achievement, once they enter school!!
  • Learn appropriate social skills and behavior patterns that contribute to greater success in school and life!!!
(Massey and Barnett, “Comparative Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Abecedarian Program and Its Policy Implications,” Economics of Education Review, 2007)
Early childhood education is good for all of us
Such early education also benefits society:
  • Fewer children need special education.
  • Personal and social problems are reduced.
  • Fewer children drop out of school, are unemployed as adults, or are economically handicapped.
  • Many more such children become contributing members of society.
(Gorey, “Early Childhood Education: A meta-analytic affirmation of the short and long-term benefits of educational opportunities,”  School Psychology Quarterly, 2001)
Large-scale studies provide cost-benefit estimates ranging from three to seven dollars saved for every dollar spent.  (For example, see Yoshikawa, et. al., “Investing in our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development, 2013)
Utah lags behind in offering early childhood education
When I served as the president of the National School Boards Association, I discovered to my alarm that Utah drags its feet in providing early childhood education.  Most other states are well ahead of us.  (I believe Utah culture provides many valuable assets to our children, superior to other places, but early childhood education is not one of them.)
In January 2015, Education Week rated Utah as last in the nation for public preschool services, noting that the gap between poor children and non poor children in Utah preschools had actually grown between 2008 and 2013.  (“States Graded on Indicators for Early Years,” Education Week, January 8, 2015.)
Although some children have wonderful early childhood education, others are deprived
Some citizens resist early childhood education.  They insist any early education is the responsibility of parents.   Where the parents exist, have the means and the ability, and actually provide early education that is likely true.  But many in our society are not so blessed!   Society must—to benefit itself as well as the children—make certain early childhood education is available to all.  Special attention must be given to the poor and those otherwise disadvantaged.
Fortunately, many groups throughout the State are recognizing this need and actively supporting moves to increase early childhood education.  All of those groups and all of those efforts are to be commended.  Their efforts deserve enthusiastic appreciation from all. 
The Legislature will be considering measures in the coming session which will increase financial support for early childhood education.  I encourage readers to let your legislators know this is an important priority.
The effort to expand educational opportunities for our small children must be accelerated.  As that happens, all will benefit.