A couple months ago, my early education, a program called Mommy and Me, came up in a phone conversation with my mother. I had never considered the effects that this program had on me and my education. My mother, a marriage and family counsellor by profession, swears that this was one of the best parenting decisions she ever made. She told me she always sought out programs which were play-based and nurturing rather than academically rigorous. Scientific evidence backs up her assumptions (James J. Heckman 2006).
In addition, early education programs can provide benefits ranging from emotional and social health to cognitive advantages and even social economic benefits (James J. Heckman 2006). Research is clear that the years from before birth until age five are crucial for a child’s development and if no intervention occurs children are placed at an early disadvantage (James J. Heckman 2006). I understand that not every mother is able to attend a mommy and me program with their child and often times the children of single working mothers are the most in need of educational intervention. However, every child should have the opportunity to attend an early education program, not only for the sake of their own educational benefits, but because of the potential for societal improvement from these programs because of the ways in which they can prepare children to become self-sufficient contributing adults. Research shows that early educational intervention is even more crucial for children raised in poverty and can make a dramatic difference in their life outcomes (Frances A. Campbell et al. 2002).
On September 15, 2016, then Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump laid out his plans to stimulate the economy and increase economic development through tax cuts, job creation, and company retention (Tessa Berenson 2016). Not surprisingly, he never made one mention of education, or more specifically early education programs and preschools. Rather, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget includes $1.4 billion to increase the use of vouchers in public and private schools (Aria Bendix 2017). Most of these funds will be set aside for a private school-choice and charter schools with an additional $1 billion going towards Title 1 (Aria Bendix 2017). Not one portion of Trump’s proposed budget was allocated to early education programs and preschools.
After Head Start, a publically funded early educational program, lost steam, early education funding has been put on the political backburner. Funding preschool programs has always been something politicians want to speak about in campaign addresses, but it rarely becomes a fiscal priority. For example, at the start of his Presidency, the Obama Administration planned to provide $10 billion in competitive grants over 10 years to assist states in creating and improving early education programs for children from birth to age 5 (Amy E. Lowenstein 2011). However, by March 2010, this policy was dropped due to limited resources (Amy E. Lowenstein 2011). In addition, in 2014, the United States of America, arguably the most advanced society in the world, ranked 26th amongst developed economies for participation of 0 -2 year olds in formal childcare and preschool services (Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs 2016). In my opinion this unacceptable, it is embarrassing that the United States is not successfully educating our children at the most crucial time in their lives.
Politicians rarely see education as an economic development opportunity. They would much rather build that new bridge or that trillion dollar football stadium. However, there is superfluous evidence which suggests that investment in early education has the greatest long term return on investment compared to any short term infrastructure building project. It has thepotential to reduce disparities between wealthy and poor families and the ability to reduce opportunity gaps for disadvantaged kids (Frances A. Campbell et al. 2002). Research suggests that interventions targeting the years from birth to age 5 often provide more significant long-term returns than those targeting later periods of life, a pattern that goes further than educational effects and into the social and professional spheres (Robert Crosnoe, Claude Bonazzo, and Nina Wu 2015). For these reasons, I argue that early education programs must be a top priority of any economic development initiative.
According to Lawrence Schweinhart, the President of the High/Scope educational Research Foundation, the Perry Preschool study, conducted in the 1960s on a randomized sample of underprivileged African American children, revealed that preschool intervention improved children’s scores on achievement tests and literacy tests. More importantly the children showed better attitudes about education and schooling than their non-program counterparts (Lawrence J, Schweinhart 2004). On the economic side, significantly more children from the preschool group were employed at age 40 and they reported earning higher salaries (Lawrence J, Schweinhart 2004). The study also presents strong evidence that the Perry Preschool program played a significant role in reducing overall arrests and arrests for violent crimes (Lawrence J, Schweinhart 2004).
Furthermore, male subjects cost the public 41% less in crime expenses per person. In a country where 478 out of every 100,000 people are in prison and it costs the taxpayer anywhere from $17,000 to $60,000 per inmate, keeping people out of prison should be an economic goal (Christian Henrichson and Ruth Delaney 2012). Along these same lines, after conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the Perry Preschool program the researchers found that the children who received the intervention returned, on average, $17 dollars for every dollar invested. This means that if the government were to invest in programs, like the Perry Preschool, taxpayers would receive $17 dollars in overall value for every one dollar spent.
Everyone, especially a business minded man, like President Trump, must realize that this return alone makes early education a worthwhile investment.
Furthermore, there are emotional and developmental facts about childhood growth that make early intervention programs, like the Perry Preschool, even more critical. Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning in the prenatal period and extending throughout the early childhood years
(Heckman, 2006). Today, children in the United States are being born into increasingly unstable environments. For example, today there are more American children born to teenage mothers or living in single parent homes than 40 years ago (Heckman, 2006). More importantly, disadvantages are often associated with poor parenting practices and unstable living situations (James J. Heckman 2006) This makes the need for universal preschool today even more necessary.
However, we cannot expect to eradicate poverty by merely introducing kids to early education programs. According to Senator Alexander, we cannot assume that sending children to preschool will “scrub them clean” of the effects of poverty (Hon. Tom Harkin et al. 2014, sec. Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions). There must be a holistic cumulative intervention, which includes wrap around social services and parental education. According to Edward Zigler of Yale University, early education is not a magic potion for reducing the effects of poverty. He argues, there must be a well-rounded approach that includes health care, child care, good housing, sufficient income for every family, a child rearing environment free of drugs and violence, equal education, and support for parents (Edward Zigler, n.d.). While some of his suggestions may be outside of the government’s control, his general argument for more social services for at-risk families during child rearing is not unfounded.
For the reasons listed above, I propose a holistic approach to universal early education, which includes wrap around services to support uneducated parents and help meet the material needs as well as educational needs of at-risk children and their families. In addition to the 2.5 hours per day of classes, the Perry Preschool program included home visits, where staff would spend time with parents in children’s homes teaching them about proper parenting and child development (Lawrence J, Schweinhart 2004). It is likely that the benefits of these home visits extended beyond the children participating in this study, because the parents applied what they had learned to all their children, therefore compounding the positive effects of the program (Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald 2003). Moreover, the parents of the children who participated in the study showed more signs of interest in their child’s education later in their lives, than did the parents of the non-program group.
In some states, holistic programs like these already exist. For example, the Southwestern Independent School District in the States of Texas, a district serving dominantly Mexican immigrant families, has staff whose primary responsibility is coordinating between hospitals and schools (Robert Crosnoe, Claude Bonazzo, and Nina Wu 2015). In addition, pre-kindergarten programs in the district are regularly visited by a health care van, which provides immunizations, wellness assessments and dental checkups all free of charge (Robert Crosnoe, Claude Bonazzo, and Nina Wu 2015). Most parents reported that their main reason for attending a school in the district was the provision of health services such as these (Robert Crosnoe, Claude Bonazzo, and Nina Wu 2015). While expensive, these types of holistic approaches, that include health care and parental intervention, are essential to making the effects of early education last into elementary and secondary education.
In addition, to including more services to families, universal preschool must include play- based learning. Children must play in order to constantly develop new concepts and understandings of the world (Janet Moyles 1998). Even adults do this daily. Think about when you bought your first smartphone. If you were anything like me, you were intrigued by the new device and spent hours tapping through the applications and discovering all its capabilities. Playing, curiosity and discovery are all part of our DNA.
Furthermore, childhood play is a natural tool for learning and communication. It is a promoter of curiosity and a means to investigate problems (Janet Moyles 1998). Play is the first building block in learning. It promotes a desire to learn about material’s properties, textures, shapes, smells, colors, and feelings, whichallow kids to be creative and imaginative with the information they have learned (Janet Moyles 1998). Play also allows children to choose and control a situation (Janet Moyles 1998). While playing, they are allowed to determine what they think is important, thus giving them ownership of their own learning. As evident from the Perry Preschool study, children who experience early education are more likely to take ownership of their education and therefore be more motivated in school. These positive qualities were formed during play time in their earliest years.
In sum, as a conservative it is hard to vouch for a program that involves more government control and spending. However, with evidence like this the necessity of universal early education is hard to ignore. Investing in infrastructure and job creation is beneficial in the short term, but investing in the lives of our youngest citizens and creating early education programs that include parental intervention and healthcare provisions for our least fortunate create lasting effects that will better our country and democracy down the road. Moreover, one of the backbones of the conservative ideology is ensuring that everyone gets a fair shake at the American Dream. Without that all conservative arguments are meaningless. Therefore, it is essential to the future of conservative principles that holistic early education becomes a key component of the Trump Administration’s education budget.
Amy E. Lowenstein. 2011. “Early Care and Education as Educational Panacea: What Do We Know About Its Effectiveness.” Educational Policy 25 (1): 92–114.
Aria Bendix. 2017. “Trump’s Education Budget Revealed.” The Atlantic, March 26. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/trumps-education-budget-revealed/519837/.
Art Rolnick, and Rob Grunewald. 2003. “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with High Public Return.” Federal Reserve Bank.
Christian Henrichson, and Ruth Delaney. 2012. “The Cost of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs
Taxpayers.” Center in Sentencing and Corrections. New York: VERA Institute of Justice. http://archive.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/price-of-prisons-updated-version-021914.pdf.
Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. 2016. “Enrollment in Childcare and Pre-School.” PF3.2. OECD Family Database.
Edward Zigler. n.d. “Forty Years of Believing in Magic Is Enough.” Social Policy Report.
Frances A. Campbell, Craig T. Ramey, Elizabeth Pungello, Joseph Sparling, and Shari Miller-
Johnson. 2002. “Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes from the Abecedarian Project.” Applied Developmental Science 6 (1): 42–57.
Hon. Tom Harkin, Hon. Alexander Lamar, Hon. Michael F. Bennett, Hon. Barbara A. Mikulski,
Hon. Tim Scott, Hon. Al Franken, Hon. Johnny Isakson, et al. 2014. Supporting Children and Families Through Investments in High-Quality Early Education. Washington, DC.
James J. Heckman. 2006. “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children.” Science 312 (5782): 1900–1902.
Janet Moyles. 1998. “To Play or Not to Play? That Is the Question!” In The Early Years, edited by Sandra Smidt, 22–28. London: Routledge.
Lawrence J, Schweinhart. 2004. “The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40.” High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.
Robert Crosnoe, Claude Bonazzo, and Nina Wu. 2015. Promise and Peril in Early Education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Tessa Berenson. 2016. “Read Donald Trump’s Speech on Jobs and the Economy.” TIME, September 15. http://time.com/4495507/donald-trump-economy-speech-transcript/.