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In the Nation's Interest

Trustee Larry Jensen on Importance and Benefits of Early Education

By Larry Jensen

“The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth." - Erasmus

The journey to the proper education of a child begins very early and traveling the path too late culminates in predictable outcomes.  A path to solid educational foundations for a child has dramatic and long-term benefits.  We strive, work hard, and sacrifice to assure our own children are well educated. As a nation, has the time arrived to redefine 'our' children to embrace 'all' of the nation's children?

Unfortunately, some expert’s estimate that 75% of our nation’s children are unlikely to receive a 'proper education.'  If this is a half-truth, this is a national emergency!  That is a staggering prognosis in a competitive, global, and knowledge-based economy. The implications for this national crisis are manifold, including steady declines in workforce quality, diminishing workforce availability, stunted economic growth, broadening burdens on social services and, worst case, higher crime rates, and even potential for civil unrest, as the gap between haves and have-nots widens.

Children need to 'learn to read' by the third grade; if not, then those same children will thereafter struggle to 'read to learn.'  Simply stated, if you don't learn to read you cannot read to learn!  Learning to read begins pre-kindergarten in the home or a viable learning alternative. Without basic reading skills, these children will be especially challenged to gain the proper education from the third grade forward. Among young, minority males, there will be an increased likelihood of long-term engagement in the criminal justice system.

A massive gap in opportunity for early childhood education stratifies by socioeconomic groups and widens within severely weakened, strained and broken family support structures.  Healthy family structures are essential for early childhood development, especially growth of the proper pre-school foundations for cognitive learning and for the ability to learn executive function skills. With more than 50% of all American children now born into single parent homes, there is a great likelihood those particular children will face a severely disadvantaged early childhood learning environment. The underlying problem is the basic family structure, which is so severely weakened that many children, without intervention, tragically will be left behind by their life circumstances. 

Early childhood education is fundamentally a precursor to all future successful educational outcomes. Old ways no longer work; new ways for children do work:

• Special Education-$65 billion spent on special education each year: children educated in their first years are 50% less likely to need special education.
• Crime-$158 billion spent on juvenile criminal costs: children educated in their first years are 70% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
• Single parents: children educated in their first years are 50% less likely to become teen parents themselves.

Early childhood education is essential for a child's development of both cognitive and non-cognitive control skills. The positive outcomes for early childhood education are:

• Participants in early childhood learning programs are 80% more likely to attend college.
• High quality early childhood education increases employability by 23%.
• Adults who attended early childhood programs earn 33% higher average salaries.

For every dollar invested in early childhood, there is an estimated sevenfold return on investment.  That's an incredible return. Is it not true that a dollar invested in all our children is a dollar invested in all of us? Government, business, churches, faith-based organizations, foundations, and school systems need to make it their common business to work diligently together at the local, state, and federal level to create a hope and a new vision for the "proper education" of all our youth!