Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ages 0-5: The Crucial Years

Second-grade teacher David Keyes laments in The Washington Post on April 9 that schools with wealthy white students have a "distinct advantage when it comes to testing" under NCLB. "Their students grow up with "the intellectual abundance their wealth provides: books, educational videos and Baby Einstein games, to name a few." Of course, poor and minority children also have rich backgrounds: they "speak foreign languages, make music, tell vivid stories, and have other skills not typical of their peers. Their backgrounds, however, often do not provide them with the academic skills needed to succeed on standardized tests."

The Hamilton Project, situated at The Brookings Institution, ( agrees with Keyes: "Before children even start kindergarten, there is already a marked difference in reading and math scores between the most advantaged and least advantaged children. Those who score poorly before entering kindergarten are likely to do less well in school and face an increased probability of being teen parents, engaging in crime, and being unemployed as adults." To address this problem a discussion paper by two researchers, Jens Ludwig and Isabel Sawhill, suggests in its subtitle "Intervening Early, Often, and Effectively in the Education of Young Children."

The authors note that the "largest disparities in cognitive and noncognitive skills are found along race and class lines well before children start school, even before they enroll in the federal Head Start preschool program at age three or four years. Most of America's social policies try to play catch-up against these early advantages--and most disadvantaged children never catch up."

The Success by Ten proposal challenges the country's commitment to young children and to their individual development and the country's future: "The most promising way to improve the learning outcomes of disadvantaged children would be to provide them with five years of high-quality, full-time early education and care outside the home, starting from birth." Yes, that is "starting from birth," so you can imagine the investment needed of resolve and resources. If you are interested in learning the features of such a program and on what bases the program is proposed, explore the report Success by Ten on the Hamilton Project website. Whether or not you agree with this particular program, the goal of supporting children during the crucial first five years of their lives deserves our serious attention.


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