Archives For December 2012

Thinking long-term, investing in kids


Ncholas Kristof’s piece in the New York Times earlier this week chronicled the significant work Save The Children is doing to provide enriched early learning opportunities to kids born into low-income families in the U.S.  These opportunities are valuable because they can enable disadvantaged kids to make something greater of their lives.

While Kristof has a platform for spotlighting the worthiness of investing in early childhood education, this issue typically goes under the radar.  In interviews for my next book, directors of nonprofits have reported to me that enrichment programs for low-income families are a tough sell to funders precisely because, ironically enough, they are preventative!

One director commented: “When you’re working with a child from birth to three, the change that we’re seeking is not going to be measured pre and post in the way that a high school dropout who then goes to college can be measured and also quite visible in the impact.  We tend, as a society, to stand around and wait for things to happen and try to fix the situation.  When we’re trying to fix something and you can see that it’s broken first and then fix after, that kind of evidence is far more dramatic and compelling to people in terms of the demonstration of change that we seek to make.”

The fact that people may not view enabling very young children to avoid a life of despair to be as compelling as helping adolescents or adults overcome adversity is shortsighted thinking we need to overcome.  If we are to help poor children gain greater access to the American dream, we should begin as early as possible, regardless of what kind of feel-good story we can attach to our efforts.

One childhood, one chance

There is no better time to address the educational achievement gap than before it has fully manifested itself.  That means intervening in the lives of at-risk children while they are still very young.

This work is being done effectively in the Dallas area by Educational First Steps.  Its aim is simple yet powerful: to improve the availability and quality of early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children.  The organization provides services to childcare centers and preschools in low-income areas.  It offers teacher training, educational field trips, and funding for classroom materials.

Recent evidence indicates that kids born into low-income famlies are likely to experience cognitive deficits that grow substantially over time and contribute to a substantially greater likelihood relative to their peers of dropping out of high school.  Yet other, more encouraging evidence shows that this trajectory is reversible; it just depends on making investments in high-quality early childhood education.

Educational First Steps’ work unfolds in four stages:

  • Working on-site in the classroom to develop age appropriate, well-run child learning centers that earn national accreditation for educational excellence
  • Professionally training teachers and center directors in low-income neighborhoods through EFS own teacher curriculum and subsidized achievement of Child Development Associate certificates
  • Providing quality educational materials and enrichment directly to impoverished children
  • Engaging parents/guardians in their child’s learning and social-emotional development

This work is making an impact — on children’s test scores in the early elementary grades, on their general excitement about and investment in learning, and in engaging parents and guardians in their child’s learning and social-emotional development.  Such dramatic successes, coupled with the significant and growing need, are sure indicators that EFS’ work deserves greater support!

Here is how you can make a donation or become a volunteer.