Opinion
5:30 am
Thu February 6, 2014

Time Will Tell If Leaders Are Serious About Early Childhood Education

Credit Tom Chalkley

Time Will Tell If Leaders Are Serious About Early Childhood Education

Maryland’s education and child welfare community must find the current interest in early childhood education exciting, gratifying – and somewhat amusing.

The President, some members of Congress – not to mention all three Democratic candidates for governor of Maryland – are hailing the value of beginning to teach children at four or even three years of age. Three would be best, experts say.

One of this state’s most ardent and long-time advocates is Margaret Williams. She’s Executive Director of the Maryland Family Network. “The earlier you start,” she says, “the more dramatic the impact of special care and education programs.”

The big political guns are rolling out their support as if they had come across the idea themselves.

Well, whatever works.

The fact is that educators and students of child development have been urging recognition of the science for a decade at least. Professor James Heckman, a Nobel laureate in economics at the University of Chicago, is one of them. The economic value, he says, is stunning. Families and the society benefit, he reckons, seven to ten percent greater than the investment. Plus, he says, income inequality is reduced.

Here we have an answer to the question, why now? Why does the idea get such support politically now? Because doing something about the income gap is a talking point, at least, in the political arena.

The test will come when leaders are asked to provide the money. To pay off as well as many expect – to be a quality program – the cost will be considerable.

When we see the bottom line, we’ll see if there’s real commitment.

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org.