“The road to college attainment, higher wages and social mobility in the United States starts at birth,” quotes a recent New York Times article titled “Too Small to Fail.” The quote is attributed to James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago, who goes on to say, “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.” Renowned for his work on econometrics, Mr. Heckman is now focusing his work on early education for disadvantaged children. By his calculations, he believes that early-education programs for needy kids pay for themselves several times over and could perhaps be the highest-return public investment in the world today. However, this issue does not lie only in education. Help is also needed for families beginning in pregnancy to reduce the risk of children being born with addictions and to improve the potential for more meaningful engagement and conversation in the time after birth and before enrollment in school.
The best metric of child poverty may have to do not with income but with how often a child is spoken and read to.
Investments made in early childhood have a large impact. Recent research in neuroscience shows that early childhood is when the brain is developing most quickly, which is why it is such a critical time. According to the author of this New York Times article, which you can read here, the current presidential campaign would be an ideal time to transcend the debates centered on free tuition and to instead focus on early-childhood programs for needy kids.
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