Dewan: The benefits of investing in early childhood programs
Photo courtesy of Alum Rock Union School District.

    Most of us likely never think about kindergarten unless we have a child or grandchild of our own or work in a school. It is time that we all talk about what it takes for a child to be ready for kindergarten and the long-term impact when children enter school without the benefit of an early childhood experience.

    There is tremendous value when business, community and education work together on behalf of children and families.

    In fall 2018, schools in Santa Clara County participated in the first countywide kindergarten readiness assessment in 10 years. The study showed that half of kindergartners in the county were ready for school across a range of socioemotional and academic skills and 31% were ready in some of these skill areas. Yet, close to one in five children did not demonstrate readiness for kindergarten in any skill domain.

    These data are essential for our county to measure and track over time, as longitudinal studies have shown that kindergarten readiness supports children’s success in school and beyond. Kindergarteners with prosocial skills, such as showing empathy and being willing to share with peers, at school entry have higher educational attainment, are more likely to be employed, are less likely to need public assistance, and are less likely to fall prey to substance abuse. Research clearly demonstrates that kindergarten readiness has wide-ranging implications for a child’s long-term outcomes and the entire community feels the benefits.

    The 2018 Santa Clara County school readiness assessment identified the types of investments that can improve readiness, including early identification and interventions for health and developmental differences and quality early care and education (ECE) programs. Children who attended ECE were nearly twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten than children who did not.

    Parents, who are current employees, are more productive when they know their children are doing well. Access to safe, quality childcare contributes to the overall well-being of the family.

    There is substantial evidence for cost-savings associated with early identification and ECE attendance. Quality ECE interventions are linked to positive long-term outcomes for children. These savings include reduced future costs by avoiding grade retention and dropping out of high school.

    Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman argues these savings far outweigh the cost of early childhood programs, estimating the return on investment for quality early childhood programs at 13%.

    To increase school readiness, we must invest in every child by providing quality ECE programs, access to health services and supporting young families especially from birth to age five. Reliable ECE including affordable childcare for children of employees’ increases worker productivity, decreases absenteeism, allows employees to stay in the workforce and increases employees’ earnings.

    Access to quality childcare and preschool in the communities where potential employees live and work is a powerful recruitment tool. Programs that support a child’s readiness for school are wise investments that benefit not only the child, but families, employers and the greater community for decades to come. Investments in ECE are good for children, families, communities and business.

    Read the full Santa Clara County School Readiness Assessment Report here.

    Dr. Mary Ann Dewan serves as the County Superintendent of Schools at the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

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