Investment in Quality Early Education

Please share your thoughts here regarding the potential for improving students’ and societies’ long-term outcomes by investing in quality early education. Please feel free to reference this piece I wrote to open the conversation:

Published by Anne Johnson Landry

Anne works as Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor to Senator Brownsberger.

9 replies on “Investment in Quality Early Education”

  1. I am so pleased that you are addressing this issue. The United States lags the world in providing access to this education either free, or at affordable rates.
    It is a mistake, in my view, to focus only on the poor, indeed in many poor communities because of high unemployment there may be greater access to child care for working parents, than in middle class communities.
    To ignore the ridiculous amounts of money the middle class have to pay, and the pressure on working parents, is in my view an error.
    At a meeting in Cambridge about two weeks ago of Democrats in Vassar Lane, a resolution was taken to press for “free childcare for all children of kindergarten age.” I supported this, but on reflection, I believe it should be wage/salary-adjusted, with parents earning more than $250,000 pa not having access to this advantage. This would still provide this critical care and education to millions of American young people, and would I believe have a transformative effect on crime and achievement (economic progress).

    I wrote this recently for someone else, and it may have some value in providing a brief overview with relevant stats.

    “ It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

    By Charlene Smith

    Just before Congress and the Senate gave themselves a three-day weekend at the end of February, they allowed the Sequester ( to take effect. One of its outcomes is $406 million chopped off the Head Start early childhood education program.

    This will see kindergarten doors close to 70,000 children, and working parents face the challenge of finding childcare for them. In Washington, D.C. a good kindergarten costs around $1,750 a month, in Boston that cost is closer to $2,000. That’s big money for folk who may be earning only $11 or $15 an hour.

    These are just little kids, what’s the big deal, you might ask?
    Putting 70,000 children (and their 14,000 teachers) on the street might not seem like much now, but the long-term impact could be significant.

    Nobel Prize economist James Heckmann says that putting money into early childhood education has “astounding returns, better than the most profit-yielding stocks of our time.”

    Heckmann and Robert G. Lynch of the Economic Policy Institute say, “Early intervention (sorry my hyperlink button is not working: )
    generates the greatest returns for every dollar invested… ‘learning begets later learning.’ Instilling a solid foundation in young minds increases children’s lifelong potential and significantly increases the likelihood that they will graduate from high school. Compelling research illustrates that completing high school raises an individual’s income by $10,372 per year.” And that helps creates a healthy economy.

    A recent study by the Chicago Child-Parent Centers found that students who attended a pre-K program were 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school; 44 percent less likely to repeat a grade; 41 percent less likely to require special education services; and tend to score higher on standardized tests than those that did not attend pre-K. In other words, kids exposed to early learning, love it; it creates early ambition and a desire to succeed.

    But kids left at home with 24-hour television as the sitter don’t do well. They’re unlikely to complete high school, and that often produces angry, dislocated kids who are more likely to be jailed, have addiction problems, or leach off the system through disability or other grants. They’re more likely to be among the one in 15 Americans that land up in jail, adding to the more than $700 billion annual cost of crime.

    In California – where 1,200 teachers will lose work and 8,200 Head Start slots will be closed because of the Sequester – the Silicon Valley Leadership Group ( also points to return on investment of “high quality early childhood education.” It says this is “between three dollars …to seventeen dollars for every dollar spent in low income, high risk communities.”

    Lynch points out that using the example of one well-known program studied. “The 16 percent rate that the Perry Preschool program ( generated far surpasses the 6.3 percent return rate for the stock market between 1871 and 1998.”

    Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman on the benefits of early childhood education
    Early learning matters

  2. Investment in quality preschool is a good investment, but currently we do not have an adequate supply of quality early childhood to provide for universal preschool or anything close to it. We can not just move kindergarten and first grade teachers down and many of our early education teachers lack adequate training.

    We first need to invest in training and educating ECE teaschers and support them with decent salaries. Secondlt, we should start with low income childrewn and work our way to universal care. Right now we neither have the dollars nor the foundation on which to build.

    If you look at the succesful studies (i.e. Abecedarian, Perry PreSchool & others), you will find comprehensive programs and trained teachers are crucial. The states are apending money on QRS(quality review ssytems systems) that have no research behind it. Let’s start by building the infrastructure we need.

  3. The key to all this is defining and operationalizing *quality* programs. An early childhood program should not look like an elementary school program or even a kindergarten program. Early childhood is not about *academic* learning but rather about enhancing young children’s attainment of milestones in all areas of development. We need to come to a shared philosophy of early childhood development and what that means for early education and care programs.

    Furthermore we need to bridge the gap between early education and care programs and elementary school programs (K-3). We need to ensure that the K-3 programs are high quality as well. Studies that show the positive effects from high quality early education and care programs diminishing by third grade are not looking at the quality of the K-3 programs. Oftentimes children who attend high quality Head Start programs and other quality (often government funded) early education and care programs, particularly in rural areas and the inner cities, move into low quality elementary school programs thereby losing gains they might have made.

    Teacher/provider training programs must become more accountable for those they are graduating. Our educational system has gotten into the habit of expecting the teachers at the next level to teach the students the things they didn’t learn at their current level. We are certifying and credentialing teachers who don’t know how to write a simple sentence, let alone a paragraph. They can barely communicate verbally. Yet these are the same people who are teaching the next generation to write and become social beings.

    We also need to provide education on child development to families and primary caregivers. We need to ensure that children go home to safe environments both physically and emotionally. Programs must partner with families so that there is a shared understanding of each child’s individual strengths and areas of need. There must be consistency of message in terms of behavioral expectations.

    I have been in this field for over 30 years in a variety of capacities. I have seen both positive and negative changes. I am deeply concerned that unless we do something now our society is quickly headed to the precipice.

  4. The Boston Globe published two pieces this week on the topic of quality early education. One looks at the measures that have been taken in New Jersey to expand quality early education: The other explains business leaders’ support for an investment in quality early education:

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