Let’s Look at the Impact of Early Education Investments on the Whole Child

Although there have been recent news stories about critiques of the long-term effects of early childhood education (ECE), there is also significant research that clearly demonstrates the profound, lifelong advantage for kids who participate in high-quality programs.

ECE has strong bipartisan support from policymakers and voters alike because of these positive impacts. In fact, many of winning candidates for governor in the recent midterm elections ran on a platform of expanding child care and early education programs. That includes SCAN-endorsed gubernatorial candidates Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Gina Raimondo (D-RI) and Phil Scott (R-VT), all of whom ran their campaigns on significantly expanding early childhood education in their states.

Yet some critics persist in denying the long-term academic benefits of ECE — as highlighted in the recent article in Vox, “Early childhood education yields big benefits — just not the ones you think.” As the article points out, kids who enter intensive preschool programs are less likely to be arrested, more likely to graduate, and less likely to struggle with substance abuse as adults. Those who had participated in ECE programs were likelier to have attended and completed college.

To understand the impacts of early childhood education, we have to look at children holistically, throughout the course of their lives and within the context of their families and communities.

Unfortunately, we are oversimplifying the impact of ECE if we measure it solely on a child’s standardized test scores in third grade. Early childhood education is not an inoculation – a variety of factors play in to third-grade test scores, including the quality of the first years in school.

We have to take into consideration the complexities of these children and their surrounding environments. We must think more critically about how the socioemotional, physical, and cognitive benefits impact the lives of children, and how those benefits are interconnected and complementary in both the short- and long-term. Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman and his team explain that, “gains in socioemotional skills ultimately create better education, health and economic achievement.”

Early childhood education is one of the most effective investments we can make as a country and we owe it to kids to look at the impact of these investments on the whole child.

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Judith (Judie) Jerald is the Senior Early Childhood Advisor for the Save the Children Action Network (SCAN). Before joining SCAN in January 2016, Judie served as the Early Childhood Senior Director for U.S. Programs at Save the Children. In this role she had oversight of early childhood initiatives and was the Executive Director of the six Early Head Start and Head Start programs. In 2006, when she joined Save the Children, she designed and directed the home-based Early Steps to School Success, a signature program of Save the Children which operates in 14 states.