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March 17th, 2008
» Chamber of Commerce Blog: The economics of early childhood education

By MICHELLE POPE

After moving from the Midwest nearly 12 years ago, I was immediately struck by the pride that people have as Texans. To be a Texan, I learned, is to be proud of one’s history and culture. If you were a former student in Texas Public Schools, you probably remember spending countless hours learning about early native populations, the Texas Revolution, and Texas history. I can tell you that for all the years I spent in Michigan, I scarcely remember addressing the history of the state in one lecture.

I also noticed that Texans take great pride in their culture. Some bumper stickers illustrating Texas pride:

“American by choice; Texan by the grace of God”

“Everything is bigger and better in Texas”

“I wasn’t born a Texan, but I got here as fast as I could.”

It is clear to see why people love Texas. The friendliness of the people, the food, and even the way Texans talk are points of pride for our state.

But for all the greatness of Texas, it is difficult to understand many things:

  1. How is it that we still have thousands of children in the Central Texas region unable to pass a proficiency test in reading in the third grade?
  2. How is it that Texas ranks as the state having the highest number of teenage pregnancy in the nation?
  3. How is it that 6.5% of all children in Texas are retained in the first grade?
  4. How is it that we are among the worst in the US for child poverty, ranking 47th?
  5. How is it that hundreds of early child care workers in Texas barely make wages higher than minimum wage?
  6. Why is it that we have among the highest percentage of dropouts in the nation? Texas ranks 47th in the United States.
  7. Early Childhood Readiness

Educators, policy-makers, and economists have looked at early childhood as the having potential to create systemic change in the K-12 system. From a developmental perspective, the ages of 0-5 have long been considered a ‘critical period’ for development. Early brain research demonstrates that it is this time in which intervention for altering the course of negative developmental outcomes is the most promising.

For some children, an optimal learning environment occurs in the home. A nurturing caretaker, attentive to the child’s developmental needs provides a stimulating environment, thereby allowing a child to thrive.

Unfortunately, many children do not have a desirable early home environment. The television replaces the development of important language and social interaction skills. Few books other than the phone book are in the home. A child may not have paper or crayons to practice pre-writing skills.

A child who comes to kindergarten with few language skills is already in trouble. Poor language skills and few books in the home will be significant obstacles to the development of literacy skills. It will take a considerable amount of time for the child to catch up with classmates. Many children do not catch up, and instead fall further behind.

The economics of early intervention cannot be overstated. In the short term, a child who is held back in a grade costs the state an average of $5,000. Early intervention can also lead to fewer special education placements which are very costly to the state and the local education systems. A child who receives special education services can cost as much as four times the amount as a student in regular education.

In the long term, early intervention has been linked to higher graduation rates and lower crime rates. Some economists have even estimated that for every dollar spent on early childhood, seven dollars to society can be saved. These costs are saved in remediation, special education, work force development programs and juvenile delinquency rehabilitation programs.

Creating Change

To effectively create systemic change, it is necessary to look more carefully at the roles of employers, service-care providers, and educators. Employers can provide a critical link for valuable information on important developmental skills for children:

  1. By creating a link on a website or sending home a pamphlet on children’s critical development milestones in English and Spanish versions an important message is sent the employer;
  2. Employers could provide consistent messages to employees on the importance of reading and social interaction in the home;
  3. Employers can organize book, paper, or crayon donation drives. The books can be collected and distributed to families
  4. Employers can review their own policies to determine ‘child friendliness.’

These suggested changes are only a few of the possible things that employers and businesses can do to begin addressing the problem locally in our community. We all have a stake in the future of children in Texas. For more information on how you can get involved in Education Initiatives in San Marcos, contact the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce. And educated workforce is good business. The San Marcos Chamber of Commerce is FOCUSED ON BUSINESS!

MICHELLE POPE, Ph.D., is Presidential Fellow to Texas State University President Denise M. Trauth and a Health, Physical Education, and Recreation professor.

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4 thoughts on “» Chamber of Commerce Blog: The economics of early childhood education

  1. Thanks Michelle. That’s a topic we too often sweep under the rug. I confess I get defensive when I see statistics that cast Texas in such a poor light. I wonder about the correlation between immigration of non-english speakers and the statistics you site. How does California compare for example in some of those areas? It’s time we quit dancing around that reality and speak freely about it.

  2. There’s no way to cast our district in a great light with the figures, stats, and the history of underachievement that we have. We don’t need to get the word out. What we need is to light a fire under the butts of these teachers and students!

    Here are some of the reasons why the current system doesn’t work…..

    – no student accountability in schools. Try the high school. Any reason why there are over 100 security cameras, 4 cops on duty there, and no one can seem to know when someone leaves campus?

    – class sizes are too large

    – no institution of a performance oriented personnel system designed to get good, leadership oriented folks in these teaching positions. Ever wonder why the strict grade school teacher you probably had growing up seems to have been replaced by the tattoo-ridden, dope smoking underachievers we see today? Why is it that to get a good teacher in this district, you have to find someone over 40?

    – today’s educators (not all of them) aren’t your forward thinking, innovative, instructors. Most barely get by, don’t lead by example, and they’re hiding from the powers that be in an old, outdated system designed to reward people for a lack of performance. These folks aren’t going to be curing cancer anytime soon.

    – no ability to hold students accountable and leave them behind if they can’t seem to get with the program. We need burger flippers out there too, and underachieving students certainly fit that bill!

    – teachers today seem to want to be the student’s friend. That doesn’t work. Respect goes out the window and the lack of student performance follows closely behind.

    All of this coupled with the fact that everyone blames the teacher without student accountability, so no wonder the apathy exists.

    Wait until all districts have to report accountability measures the same way, then watch the scramble as SMCISD tries to explain why 1/3 of all students who DO graduate, graduate from some sort of alternative program. Add to that, the dropout rate, and I’d bet a little more than 1/2 of the students here graduate from the normal, 4-year, public program most of us graduated from in the past. It’s a joke.

    And hey, anyone ever wonder where all the anglo kids are? Trey Wimberley, New Braunfels, Kyle, and Geronimo. Why aren’t they going to school here? Makes you go “hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?”

    The school system here sucks and it really pisses me off, if you couldn’t tell.

  3. Amy,

    I can’t say that I agree with all of your comments, but it is refreshing to hear other voices demanding better from our school system.

    We are doing a terrible disservice to these kids and to our community as a whole by allowing these substandard results to stand and even allowing some (including board members) to tout them as something to be proud of.

    Not only are our graduation rates appalling, the number of graduates who are not prepared for college and unlikely to be admitted anywhere (if they even bother to apply) is ridiculous.

  4. These are exactly the types of discussions we need more of. These conversations are what will move people to get excited one way or another.

    Our recent school board elections were a perfect representation of our apathy. Bless all of the candidates for getting off their duff and getting involved, but the public turnout was pathetic.

    I am a firm believer that you get the government you deserve (local and national.)

    It’s easy to point and call names, but it takes effort to make changes – even if that effort is simply informing yourself about the candidates and casting a ballot.

    Next time someone complains about the school district – ask them who they voted for and why. If they can’t give you a quick, intelligent answer its because they would rather complain than do something.

    Thank you Amy for pointing out you opinions and getting the ball rolling.

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