Can Early Education Save Our Community?

Can Early Education Save Our Community?

Todd Howard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Public support for universal early education programs has grown steadily in the U.S. over the last few years.  National attention heightened in 2013 after President Obama’s State of the Union Address acknowledged early pre-kindergarten education as a major contributor to an individual’s lifelong success, with societal-scale impacts that include the reduction of poverty and crime and increased economic development.  In Texas, 2015 will be the year early education is addressed on a statewide scale.

th+a has specialized in the design of early childhood education centers for years so I’m well aware of all the good that these programs deliver.  Every preschool facility we design provides a new opportunity to have a positive impact on a child’s long-term development through the creation of a nurturing and stimulating environment.  A full year of preschool is an invaluable resource to ensure children are academically and socially prepared to enter school successfully.

The case for early education is fundamentally grounded in our brain’s architecture.  Our brains are built over time, and from the bottom up. According to research from the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University, a substantial level of cognitive development occurs early in life.  During the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. Our brains will later prune away some of these synapses for efficiency’s sake. It’s during the preschool years that much of the brain’s foundation is set in determining which circuits are reinforced and which are pruned through lack of use—“use it or lose it,” as they say.  It’s the structure and stimulation good early education provides that contributes so significantly to the optimal development of a child’s brain.

Early education is an amazing investment in both the individual and the community.  Early learning intervention is far more efficient and effective than remediation later in an individual’s educational career.  Simply put, the costs of high quality early education allay the greater costs of repeating school years and special education programs.  It prepares a child to succeed throughout their academic and professional careers, which leads to better paying jobs and fewer entanglements with criminal activity.  Early education programs are good for parents as well.  Preschool programs enable parents to have the capacity to advance in their careers during this stage of their children’s lives. 

Commit! Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to driving student achievement in Dallas County, is collaborating with schools, local leaders, and the business community to help more children get the early start in education they need. According to their website, students living in poverty who do not receive early education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 60 percent less likely to attend college, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.  Considering nearly 90 percent of DISD students meet the poverty standard, the implication is staggering.

Preschool alumni are more likely to go on to graduate high school and own homes.  Studies cited by the National Education Association found that individuals who attended a good preschool earn up to $2,000 per month than individuals who did not attend.  The President’s Council of Economic Advisors affirms that every $1 invested in quality early education yields economic returns of $8.

Last month I spent the day in Austin on behalf of the Dallas Regional Chamber to advocate funding for quality full-day pre-K for all eligible students to ensure all students are kindergarten ready.  Governor Abbott has expressed commitment to high quality pre-k programs; however the funding for Senate Bill 4 is a drop in the bucket for the needs of Dallas area children.  I know we can do more, and we must.

Dallas students need quality fully funded full-day pre-k programs now.

Currently, Dallas ISD invests millions of its own budget each year to fund the extra half day of early education program not funded by the state.  With full-day funding provided by the state, that money could be free to support other important efforts for the school district.

This isn’t just a social issue; it’s an economic issue as well.  As we invest in the vision of what the Dallas area can be in the next 20 years and beyond, there’s no better investment than preparing our children today to be a successful part of our region’s future.