Here's a quick question. Would you be willing to invest $100 for a guaranteed minimum return of $500? Most of us would grab this money-making opportunity without hesitation. Yet, this documented financial return on spending for quality early childhood programs isn't generating nearly the investments it should be. It is long past time that our elected leaders start making funding decisions that recognize early childhood education as an investment - not as an expense.
It is frustrating that we fail to make these investments, especially in light of all the studies that show the positive impact that high quality early childhood programs have on kids' futures. I would argue that our society is conditioned to want and expect instant gratification, and the positive outcomes of early childhood education take too long for many people to see. Having to wait until a preschool student is an adult is a foreign concept to many. And yet, it is the positive impact on adults that makes all the difference. According to Dr. James Heckman, the skills needed to succeed in life are developed between birth and the age of 5. These include early cognitive skills and, even more important, the sociability skills of attentiveness, impulse control, listening, following directions, working as a team and persistence. Nobel Laureate Heckman has done a tremendous amount of work showing the economic value of early childhood programs.
Setting aside the economic value of early childhood education for a moment, we clearly have a moral obligation as a society to do what is right. Quality early childhood programs are the key to closing achievement gaps before they start. This knowledge should make us aggressive advocates for the kids who need and deserve these services.
There are many examples of outstanding early childhood programs that can be replicated. As a friend said, "there is enough research out there to fill a building proving the value of investing early." The Committee for Economic Development recommends that our business leaders get behind this effort and make a strong argument in its report, Unfinished Business.
If we are going to be competitive with other countries academically, we do not have a choice but to invest now in our future. Other countries see the benefits of these investments and are moving forward. China is an example of a country that is taking advantage of the knowledge that early childhood programs produce excellent results.
Our political leaders must move beyond a shortsighted perspective to understand the critically important results that will result from investments in quality early care and education programs. Please accelerate your own advocacy and contact your leaders to let them know that we must make these investments now. Yes, they may be long out of office before the results are obvious, but their actions will define their legacies- one way or the other.