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Top 6 Myths About Early Education: #3

This week we’re debunking some of the most vicious myths about early childhood education. Come back tomorrow for a new fact check:

MYTH #1: The Achievement Gap is Not a Problem

MYTH #2: Early Learning is Ineffective

MYTH #3: Early Childhood Education is Too Expensive

For those just joining this myth-busting adventure, for the past two days we’ve been straightening out some serious distortions surrounding early childhood education. We’ve covered the achievement gap in education and the effectiveness of pre-K – even Head Start – but despite our best efforts, the misdirection continues.

Opponents of early education decry the fact that even if programs are effective – a big if, in their opinion – they are just too expensive for struggling states and the federal government to implement. 

We’ve addressed this complaint in the past, conceding that early education will cost money; but cost is only half of the equation. To focus on it exclusively is entirely misleading, particularly when ample evidence on early childhood education proves that these programs can deliver large savings.

Studies on successful interventions put the savings anywhere from $7 to $13 for every single dollar invested in the educational intervention.

Economist Timothy Bartik proves this point very effectively in a recent TED talk showing how individual states stand to gain enormously from a more educated workforce once they invest in early childhood education. As he shows, even a childless working adult stands to gain from the educated children of other parents who can grow up and participate fully in the local economy. 

The basic principle is very simple: eliminating the achievement gap boosts high school completion rates, setting children up for college or a vocation. More kids then stay out of the criminal justice system and end up making more money over a lifetime (largely because their education makes them more valuable on the job market).

On the other hand, as we saw in Myth #1, leaving children in toxic environments that stunt their growth and leave them behind their classmates only sets them up for failure. The cost of leaving a whole generation unprepared to succeed is a national concern.

This vicious cycle can begin early, as children who engage at some level with the criminal justice system are 11 to 26 percent more likely drop out of high school. As more children leave high school without a diploma (even for non-criminal justice related reasons), they become more likely to commit crime.

Once involved in the criminal justice system, and without a high school diploma, these children face a lifetime of delayed earnings, social stigma, and a higher rate of repeat offense.

This increased likelihood of criminal activity is destructive to the individual, and also costs society, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, nearly $39 billion dollars every year. All told, the President’s plan for early education is calling for a $78 billion investment over ten years.

While many policies involve complex trade-offs, spending five times more on prisons over early learning in the next decade seems an incredibly poor allocation of resources.

Early learning can remedy this cycle. Over 40 years of longitudinal data on child outcomes shows that kids with early education intervention are more likely to own a home, earn more money at their jobs, and – wait for it – graduate from high school.

When kids advance through an education system built for opportunity, society gets a double bonus: saving on prison spending and remedial education, plus increased tax revenue because these children are earning more money. As one Pew study shows, the consequence of not investing $10,000 per student in early education is $250,000 in costs per student later in life from lower earnings and more need for public assistance.

No complex science here, just plain math. 

Recognizing that there is ample evidence that children are at greater risk in their early years, and unable to refute clear evidence of significant return on investment for early education, opponents still resort to Myth #4: Early learning interventions are outliers from a bygone era. Check out tomorrow’s post and see the real story behind these effective programs.

Myth 4: Successful Early Education Programs Are Outliers »


Follow Rey Fuentes on Twitter: @reynextgen

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