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In the Nation's Interest

Business Champions for the Advancement of Early Childhood Education Spotlight: Larry Jensen, Cushman & Wakefield | Commerical Advisors

by CED October 29, 2018

Larry Jensen, President and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield | Commerical Advisors, is a Business Champion for CED's Early Childhood Education initiative, which collaborates with business leaders and education experts to increase the quality, access, and affordability of early learning opportunities for all children across the country.

Below are some of his thoughts on the importance of early childhood education.

1. How did you become interested in early learning?

My interest in early childhood education issues began with high-level insights on the devastating impacts from crime on both the victims and perpetrators. In my review of the inherent demographics within our local criminal justice system in Memphis, I began to ask why the incarceration rates were so tilted toward minority populations in our community.  Based on my informal research, I determined that greater than 90% of inmates in our county corrections facilities were male, minority, and did not have a high school education. And I was told among those inmates, it is highly likely there are greater than 70% who live with some type of learning disability.

What happened and why are so many minority young men trapped within the criminal justice system? More importantly, I asked what did or did not occur along the way that pushed such a significant number of young men toward crime lifestyles ending with revolving incarceration? I wondered if there were workable solutions. I then studied our local core city  ‘at-risk’ kids’ organizations and ministries, and determined most of those agencies serving our most vulnerable children experienced high school graduation rates exceeding 90%. Furthermore, I determined very few of those kids are involved in gangs and crime. So, why the stark difference?

2. What lesssons have you learned?

One fact became clear: if you don’t learn to read by the third grade; you are highly challenged to read to learn thereafter. By middle school, if a minority young man has limited reading skills, he is very likely to drop out, to end up on the streets, and to join a gang. I concluded if we are going to address crime at its sources, the mission starts in early childhood by focusing on children from birth-to-eight years old to work to assure every child has opportunity to learn to read, and has a support system which encourages reading and education. That same support system must extend through high school as well. I have six grandchildren and I watch them reading with moms, dads, grandmothers, and even me.  It makes such a difference. I sincerely believe every child should have that same opportunity to learn to read and be nurtured by an adult. We cannot lose another generation of children out of indifference!

3. How can business leaders help advance the importance of early learning?

Business leaders need to understand the issues from two perspectives. First, enlightened self-interest suggests if you want a good workforce in your region to work in your companies, the solution begins well before high school and post-secondary education. In fact, workforce development begins at birth and even before. Dr. James Heckman, University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate, suggests there is a $13 return on every dollar spent.  That’s a good investment, and we must make it! 

Secondly, who does not want a good job, a safe neighborhood, an opportunity for an education? Early childhood initiatives speak to all three of those primary desires of people from the poorest neighborhood to the wealthiest suburb. It seems to me that business leaders have a particular responsibility to look beyond the monthly sales and quarterly results, and ask what are we doing as a company and business leaders to foster early childhood education? Do you encourage your employees to become a mentor, a reading tutor, a volunteer coach, or Scout leader for kids who deserve our best?  Are you encouraging employees and senior staff to identify those at-risk kid organizations in your city and give of your time, your talent, and your resources. 

4. What other key stakeholders need to be involved?

I would add government must be a partner, but government alone cannot solve the problem. In Memphis we created, which is a 23-point game plan to address education challenges from the cradle-to-career. This education partnership includes leaders from government, business, education, and philanthropy.  Successes are occurring. From 2006 to last year, our high school graduation rates have grown to 79.7% in our city schools, which is up almost 15%.  Just this year, government and business have joined with philanthropy and educators and together they created a permanent funding model to provide pre-K to every four-year old in our area along with a plan to accomplish early childhood education called First8.  

CED's spotlights reflect the views of the individual and/or company spotlighted and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of CED.