Governor Deval Patrick

“Today more than ever, opportunity depends on education.  If opportunity is our nation’s hallmark, we have a patriotic, indeed a moral obligation to provide a superlative education.”

Governor Deval Patrick

Elected officials, regulators and policy wonks and business leaders in Massachusetts are talking about investing in early education as core to the future success of our cities and towns, and indeed our nation. Consider this:

  • On November 16th a group of policy makers and health providers met at the Massachusetts Medical Society for the”2011 Summit on Early Education.”  Keynote speaker Rob Dugger with the Partnership for America’s Economic Success said, “I’m often asked Are you a Republican” or˜Are you a Democrat? I reply, I am neither. What I am is a Kid Firster! Kids HAVE to come first.”
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman agreed with Dugger’s sentiments in his letter to the dead-locked Congressional Super Committee in which he implores them to invest in early education as a jobs strategy. “The quality of our workforce is not what it should be and it is not improving. Deficits in skills in early childhood are perpetuated and magnified throughout life, and our country will be unable to compete in the global economy if it does not address the increasing numbers of children who are not prepared for success in school, career and life.”
  • Last month the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a multi-year early childhood initiative with this statement, “Global competition for human talent and innovation, long-standing educational achievement gaps, low high school graduation rates, and the pending retirement of 77 million baby boomers have placed tremendous workforce pressures on American business. These pressures, if not checked, will jeopardize our national economic security and the viability of the American dream. Achieving a world-class [education] system begins with high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.”

We also heard these themes from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at the November 9th Education Summit on Closing the Achievement Gap.  Patrick sounded an alarm we first heard more than 20 years ago from the National Commission on Reading when he declared, “Three-quarters of children who struggle with reading by third grade will continue to struggle academically, greatly reducing their chances of graduating high school, going to college, or successfully participating in our high skill economy.”

We all know talk is cheap. Some might say early education is the political “Flavor of the Month,” or an easy way to defer “real” action on the joblessness concerns being heralded by individuals at the myriad Occupy encampments around the country.

But maybe not. In Massachusetts and across the nation we are seeing talk turned to action with the introduction of funding for interdisciplinary programs that link early education with elementary and secondary learning. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed the creation of a federal Office of Early Learning to “institutionalize, increase, and coordinate federal support for high-quality early learning, manage outreach to the early learning community and enhance support for building high-performing early education systems in states across the country.”

Here in the Commonwealth barriers between higher education, K-12, and early childhood education have already been breached through the reorganization efforts spearheaded by Governor Patrick’s administration. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s proposal to federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, if funded, will provide Commissioner Sherri Killins and her team with the resources to solidify a strategic and collaborative education pipeline driven by a need to ensure every child starts Kindergarten with the building blocks needed to succeed in school so they can achieve their American dream.

Governor Patrick was clear in his speech on November 9th that early education is also an issue of economic justice. In spite of all of our successes, many students are not enjoying the benefits of a high-quality education.  There is still an inescapable correlation between socio-economic status and education achievement, between your childhood zip code and your future achievement. Raising the issue of economic inequality is a risky move, particularly given the climate of discontent exacerbated by the #Occupy Wall Street movement.

But in addressing the problem of economic inequality so clearly, Governor Patrick opened the door for Raising A Reader MA to present itself as an efficient, easy and high impact investment for business leaders to make. For an average of $125 per family per year, Raising A Reader MA is helping families break the cycle of low literacy by cultivating habits of Dialogic Reading at home. You’ve heard about the pioneering research done by Hart and Risley on the vocabulary of children in low-income families versus those of children middle- and upper income communities? According to their research, the average child in a professional home has heard 30 million more words than their counterparts in low-income homes by the time they start Kindergarten. Hart and Risley concluded that underprivileged children were underperforming in school simply because they weren’t getting the experience with language provided to their peers. Raising A Reader MA teaches high need families Dialogic Reading strategies, which is a style of reading intended to expand the parent/child interaction with the story and each other. Not only that, but we give families books and other supports to help them cultivate regular habits of Dialogic Reading at home.

Sure reading is a good idea, and as our elected officials and business leaders are pointing out, it is also a good investment decision. Raising A Reader MA’s model of pre-literacy development, when implemented with integrity, does in fact result in participating high need families reporting reading at home with their young children three or more times a week. As a result, their children experience these results:

  • 76% master the letter-sound relationship at the beginning of words, compared to 64% of children who were read to fewer than 3 times a week
  • 57%  master the letter-sound relationship at the end of words, compared to 43%
  • 15% have sight-word recognition skills, compared to 8%
  • Are twice as likely as other children to earn scores in the top 25% for reading skills.

Staff and supporters of Raising A Reader MA are among the thousands of people being called to action by Governor Patrick and other political and business leaders to become “Kids Firsters.” We have the chance here to provide an opportunity to every child in Massachusetts, a chance to show them that in the face of an uncertain future we were willing to act and to lead, to preserve for them what our parents and grandparents gave to us.  I want history to record that we in our time stood up for the American Dream, and made it real in Massachusetts for a generation to come.”

Reflect and Take Action:

  • Take a moment to consider how your ability to read and access to books created opportunities for you to develop and/or reach your version of the American dream.
  • Distribute the Chamber of Commerce report Ready, Set Go! Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education to your colleagues, and initiate a conversation about how your business can increase support for early learning in your community.
  • On your Facebook page change your political affiliation to “Kid Firster”
  • Contact your local elected officials to find out their positions on early education and literacy.
  • Find out how if your local Chamber of Commerce is a member of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success. Learn why or why not.
  • Ask your portfolio manager to help you learn how your investments support early education and literacy.

The many advocacy organizations and business groups accelerating our nation’s dialogue about early education as an investment strategy have proposed additional action steps you can take.