Nicholas Kristof, an OpEd columnist for The New York Times, spends a lot of time thinking and writing about problems in the world. And he takes a thoughtful approach to this column (“Occupy the Classroom”) about early childhood education. He suggests Occupy Wall Street protestors might want to occupy a theme like this… as it could make a larger dent in inequality than does protesting banks by camping out near the banks. Kristof writes that a good education “tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty.” And disadvantaged children often are unable to get on that escalator. He points to Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist James Heckman’s research that shows investing in early education pays off a 7% or better return. He suggests school after 2nd grade is less important than school from birth to age 5.
Most of the proposed remedies involve changes in taxes and regulations, and they would help. But the single step that would do the most to reduce inequality has nothing to do with finance at all. It’s an expansion of early childhood education.
Huh? That will seem naïve and bizarre to many who chafe at inequities and who think the first step is to throw a few bankers into prison. But although part of the problem is billionaires being taxed at lower rates than those with more modest incomes, a bigger source of structural inequity is that many young people never get the skills to compete. They’re just left behind.
“This is where inequality starts,” said Kathleen McCartney, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as she showed me a chart demonstrating that even before kindergarten there are significant performance gaps between rich and poor students. Those gaps then widen further in school. “The reason early education is important is that you build a foundation for school success,” she added. “And success breeds success.”
Kristoff uses Head Start as an exmaple, pointing out that it may be more valuable than some critics suggest:
One of the Harvard scholars I interviewed, David Deming, compared the outcomes of children who were in Head Start with their siblings who did not participate. Professor Deming found that critics were right that the Head Start advantage in test scores faded quickly. But, in other areas, perhaps more important ones, he found that Head Start had a significant long-term impact: the former Head Start participants are significantly less likely than siblings to repeat grades, to be diagnosed with a learning disability, or to suffer the kind of poor health associated with poverty. Head Start alumni were more likely than their siblings to graduate from high school and attend college. Professor Deming found that in these life outcomes, Head Start had about 80 percent of the impact of the Perry program — a stunning achievement.
Something similar seems to be true of the large-scale prekindergarten program in Boston. Hirokazu Yoshikawa and Christina Weiland, both of Harvard, found that it erased the Latino-white testing gap in kindergarten and sharply reduced the black-white gap.
Kristoff notes that President Obama often spoke of early childhood education during his campaign. But the issue has slipped off the radar as he has had financial catastrophes and other major issues to deal with.
Read the full column via The New York Times
Questions to readers: Do you agree with Kristoff’s viewpoint? Why or why not? If you agree, what kinds of early childhood education tools are digital that we should know about. Comment below or email us at email@example.com