6 Big Reasons to Invest in Early Childhood Education

Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/6/2015 9:00:00 PM

Evaluting an Investment

In this math class our kids discover how to evaluate an investment. They use exponential equations in algebra class to discover the real power of compounding.
What is compounding? Building each day with the gains or losses of yesterday added to (or subtracted from) our resources. 
What is the power of compounding? Every day is "a new now", built on yesterday's real gains or losses. There's a great "aha" moment for these kids when they start to get it:
When we look at the value of education, we get a whole new appreciation for that "new now." Every day that kids are in school, they are gaining in value. Every cut that we make, especially in the younger years, also creates a new now. If we invest, our new now is positive, and compounds favorably. Fiscal conservatives like Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman estimates the value of investing in early childhood is $7 in benefit for every $1 spent. That's 700 percent returns on our investment.
If we cut back, we immediately create negative results. Now the problems compound, and suddenly instead of brain growth and socialization, we have stagnation and inability to learn. Intelligence may still be there, but the capacity to focus, persevere, and achieve is short-circuited. So our "savings" compound in a negative way that costs everyone in society, not just the poor and disadvantaged. Heckman emphatically urges that now and forever, even when we are in "budgetary crisis", we MUST invest in our children if we want the power of compounding to work for us, not against us.
In today's article another researcher weighs in on the stunning benefits of early childhood education. His point is not only that there are long-term, down-the road economic benefits. There are also very real, very immediate short-term benefits that come from investing in our children. 

6 Big Reasons for Early Childhood Education

The following highlights originated in an article published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.. It consists of statements by William Gilliam, co-author of “The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies & Issues.” by Edward Zigler, Walters S. Gilliam and W. Steven Barnett. These remarks were quoted by the NAEYC.org website from an online Q&A event they held December 12-16, 2011. 

Three non-economic arguments for investing in early childhood education.

First, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from a social justice perspective. Many of our young children start their formal schooling far behind their peers from more affluent backgrounds. These children also deserve a shot at our Great American Dream. Our society is based on the promise that every person can have a decent chance to succeed in life. Education is the best vehicle of that hope, and early education holds the greatest promise for all our children to make the most of their later educational opportunities.

Second, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from a citizenship-building perspective. One of the primary roles of education is to foster a strong citizenry. Many studies of the effectiveness of high-quality early education have shown the benefits in terms of improved citizenship skills.

Third, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from an altruistic perspective. Do we really need research to prove to us that it is a good idea to feed hungry children, care for the health and well being of medically-vulnerable children, and provide socially enriching and cognitively stimulating environments to children who would be less likely to receive this elsewhere? As a researcher, I certainly value research. But I also believe that there are certain things that we should value and do simply because they are the right thing to do—period.

Three economic arguments for investing in early childhood education:

1. LONG TERM BENEFIT - First, there are clear economic values for the children who attend. From many studies of model programs, such as the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian Projects, as well as broader programs such as the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, we know that every dollar invested in early education yields back many dollars in societal savings from outcomes such as: 

  1. reduced grade retention and special education placement; increased income and property taxes paid as adults;
  2. decreased reliance on public assistance; 
  3. and decreased costs associated with crime, adjudication, and incarceration. 

This is discussed by Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman in the first chapter of The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies and Issues, as well as several other chapters.

2. IMMEDIATE BENEFIT - Second, there are clear economic values for the working parents of children who attend, as well as for their employers—both large and small businesses. Early education, when offering enough hours of service, plays an important role in providing safe, affordable, and available child care for working families. Child care was seen early as an important ingredient of welfare-to-work reform. Child care makes employment possible and profitable for millions of working families, and the benefits are felt by employers who report fewer worker absences.

3. IMMEDIATE BENEFIT - Third, there are clear economic values for the many people who work in the larger early care and education enterprise. These include teachers, assistant teachers, directors, consultants, social workers, nurses, speech-language therapists, teacher preparation faculty, cooks, administrative assistants, bus drivers, and many others. These people earn a very modest (too modest) living while performing a massive public good. And they likely spend their wages locally, keeping local businesses thriving and paying sales, income, and property taxes. Sadly, preschool teachers and child care professionals are not even eligible for the federal tax break for K-12 teachers! It is this “third economic benefit” of early education that is often forgotten – but it is a huge one.