There’s a reason for all the emphasis on early childhood education in public policy. Data compiled by the Rauch Foundation found that 85 percent of the brain is developed by the time a person is five years old. However, only 14 percent of money for public education is put into these early years.
It is not to say that the sole focus of public education should be on the first five years of a child’s growth, but there is not enough allocated. The achievement gap, disparities in performance between demographics, has profound influence on education policy. Lawmakers and educators work to close it, but taking on the achievement gap in late-elementary to high school could be a treatment of the symptom, not the cause.
Before an achievement gap takes place, there is a readiness gap. If a majority of brain growth takes place before a child begins K-12 education, it makes sense to emphasize the formative years.
Programs like Head Start have attempted to tackle the problem. Low-income families are given access to the service for their children leading up to the first year of formal education. It operates as a day care, health service, and form of preschool for eligible children.
Head Start has shown mixed results in effectiveness. In California, only 60 percent of eligible families take advantage of the service.
Socioeconomic factors have profound effects on cognitive development. The Ounce of Prevention Foundation states the following:
“Parents who are preoccupied with a daily struggle to ensure that their children have enough to eat and are safe from harm may not have the resources, information, or time they need to provide the stimulating experiences that foster optimal brain development.”
“Infants and children who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and pathways that facilitate later learning.”
President Obama’s call for the federal government to work closely with states has progressed. His latest budget, released yesterday, allocates $75 billion over the next decade to early childhood education initiatives. It is partially funded by new revenues coming from an increase in the tobacco tax.
Coming up with the funding to expand education services is tough in the midst of budget shrinkage. However, the Rauch Foundation finds that in New York, every dollar spent on early childhood education produces a $1.86 return on investment.