Up to 90 percent of brain development happens in the first five years of life. An early investment in educational quality for our youngest learners pays dividends in the way of preparedness for school, college and career, and life. By contrast, a poor start can account for long-lasting, nearly impossible to make up gaps in achievement, standard of living and life outcomes. Right from birth the clock starts on the prospect of successfully capitalizing on a child’s innate aptitude, access and joy of learning.
Researcher and sociologist Donald Fernandez found that children who do not read proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. Minority children who are not reading proficiently in third grade are twice as likely as similar white children not to graduate from high school (about 25 versus 13 percent). This and other research tells us that children who fail to learn how to read by grade three endure lifelong challenges with reading and life. Kids who are not able to master basic literacy fall behind and often never catch up as they struggle to make the switch from learning to read to reading to learn.
Supportive home environments can help close the school readiness gap, but what if there is little or no support at home? What if the child is homeless or mom works three jobs? What if access to quality early childhood education is limited by geography or income or whether or not you have a car? Access is more than just having a “daycare” on every corner—we now know what school quality factors influence early learning and what quality environments look like. We can measure student readiness factors that help indicate whether a child is ready to enter into formal learning primed for success. Research tells us what early indicators are for school readiness and that an absence of these factors leads to often lifelong learning deficits and challenges. These early indicators are our warning system and predictors of the likelihood for success in school, college and life. We know also that if a child starts off on the right pathway, they will likely stay there. It will take a high degree of commitment at the federal and state levels as well as public and private investments to ensure all kids have access to quality early learning. Let’s work together to ensure that every child is ready and prepared for learning—early, throughout college and career, and stays on a journey of continuous improvement for life.