Thursday, April 4, 2013

A good illustration of the importance of early childhood education

If you haven't seen it already, Eduardo Porter's column in the New York Times yesterday morning, "Investments in Education May Be Misdirected" is worth reading. In it, Porter argues that the US is misdirecting its education spending by focusing so much on middle school, high school, and college students, and less on younger children. Porter reports:
Public spending on higher education is more than three times as large as spending on preschool, according to O.E.C.D. data from 2009. A study by [Julia] Isaacs found that in 2008 federal and state governments spent somewhat more than $10,000 per child in kindergarten through 12th grade. By contrast, 3- to 5-year-olds got less than $5,000 for their education and care. Children under 3 got $300.
Porter argues that this distribution of funding particularly hurts children from poor families, as they come to school unprepared to learn. Julia Isaacs' study found that:
more than half of poor 5-year-olds don't have the math, reading, or behavioral skills needed to profitably start kindergarten. If children keep arriving in school with these deficits, no amount of money or teacher evaluations may be enough to improve their lot later in life.
Porter provides a link to a presentation by James Heckman that is even more interesting. Heckman argues that the cost of making up for lack of skills is very high, and that early intervention can mean great improvements in cognitive and emotional abilities, as well as health. School reform, Heckman points out, will not solve this problem. Early intervention, on the other hand, gives the child a foundation that can be built on later.

What do you think? Please comment.

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