Feb 09, 2015

The following op-ed first appeared in Roll Call on February 9, 2015.

 

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — commonly known as No Child Left Behind— it’s a great time to consider better policies for all children. No Child Left Behind wasted a great deal of effort and money and produced too few benefits because it addressed problems in our educational system too late in the lives of children and removed incentives for schools to develop the full range of intellectual, emotional and social skills necessary for individuals to flourish in the 21st century economy. ESEA should be revised to start with quality early learning and continue with K-12 education that develops the whole child.

Many disadvantaged children (and many of the schools that serve them) fail because the children have had less than a fighting chance to succeed when they enter kindergarten. Research shows that early learning is essential for school readiness, lifelong learning and achievement. If early learning isn’t made an integral component of the ESEA reauthorization, America will find it difficult to reach its goal of improving its educational system and producing high school graduates who are prepared for success in college and career.

Many disadvantaged children (and many of the schools that serve them) fail because the children have had less than a fighting chance to succeed...

Unfortunately, too many children are born into families that do not provide effective early learning. The family is the greatest contributor to the success (or failure) of children and to upward social and economic mobility. In many quarters of society, the American family is under great stress. The way parents interact with and attach to their children, the amount of time they spend with them and the resources they have to provide intellectual and social stimulation inside and outside the home greatly affect their children’s school readiness and, consequently, their potential for leading flourishing lives in school and beyond.

Research reveals dramatic differences in achievement test scores and in social and character skills across children from different economic and social groups. Children of college-educated mothers achieve at a far higher rate than children whose mothers have a high school degree or less. These gaps emerge long before children enter kindergarten — and are difficult in school to close no matter how well we configure schools to remediate problems that could have been prevented before schooling starts.

Fortunately, many states and localities have begun to utilize quality early childhood education as an effective strategy for preventing achievement gaps and, ultimately, reducing inequality through development of critical skills. ESEA would be greatly improved if it helped states connect early learning and preschool with K-12 education.

The country would also benefit if ESEA took into account the importance of teaching and measuring character skills, not just cognitive skills, in evaluating school performance. High quality early childhood education works because it promotes both cognitive and character skills. That balanced approach is largely abandoned in public education once a child begins elementary school, something that’s foolhardy considering what we know about the importance of character skills. Persistence, impulse control, self-awareness, consideration and team work are essential skills in today’s labor market and are better predictors of success in life than the current battery of tests we now employ to measure cognitive ability and rate the performance of schools.

 

by Heckman Equation  |  Jan 21, 2015
  If you watched the State of the Union address, you know that improving the economy, strengthening the middle class and reducing the deficit are national priorities.   Solving these challenges starts with investing...
by Heckman Equation  |  Dec 15, 2014
On Wednesday, December 10, Professor Heckman addressed policymakers, advocates, philanthropists, scholars and members of the media at the White House Summit on Early Education. Below is the transcript of his speech.   White House...
by Heckman Equation  |  Sep 25, 2014
Professor Heckman was in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, taking part in a conversation at the Brookings Institution on reducing inequality and later participating in an interview for the second annual Chicago Economics Society meeting at the...
by Heckman Equation  |  Jun 24, 2014
With the release of Medical Compliance Starts at Birth—the third video in a series highlighting the recent analysis from Professor Heckman and colleagues that shows the substantial positive impact of quality early childhood development on...
by Max  |  May 06, 2014
The following essay was written by Max, a seventh grader at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tennessee. Each year, the middle school students at Lausanne Collegiate School do a Living Museum project in which they answer an important...
by Heckman Equation  |  Mar 27, 2014
The Perry Preschool study has shown that high-quality early development programs for disadvantaged children can lead to better education, social and economic outcomes for individuals and society. New research from Professor Heckman and colleagues...
Investing in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children from birth through age 5 will help prevent achievement deficits and produce better education, health, social and economic outcomes. Such investments will reduce the need for costly remediation and social spending while increasing the value, productivity and earning potential of individuals. In fact, every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces a 7 percent to 10 percent return, per child, per year.
- Professor James Heckman