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[Xmca-l] Fwd: Critical Early Learning

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Frank Kessel <kesfam@pdq.net>
Date: Sun, Nov 10, 2013 at 9:14 AM
Subject: Critical Early Learning
To: Frank Kessel <kesfam@pdq.net>

 [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>

 November 9, 2013
 Oklahoma! Where the Kids Learn EarlyBy NICHOLAS D.

TULSA, Okla. — LIBERALS don’t expect Oklahoma to serve as a model of social
policy. But, astonishingly, we can see in this reddest of red states a
terrific example of what the United States can achieve in early education.

Every 4-year-old in Oklahoma gets free access to a
high-quality prekindergarten. Even younger children from disadvantaged
homes often get access to full-day, year-round nursery school, and some
families get home visits to coach parents on reading and talking more to
their children.

The aim is to break the cycle of poverty, which is about so much more than
a lack of money. Take two girls, ages 3 and 4, I met here in one Tulsa
school. Their great-grandmother had her first child at 13. The grandmother
had her first at 15. The mom had her first by 13, born with drugs in his
system, and she now has four children by three fathers.

But these two girls, thriving in a preschool, may break that cycle. Their
stepgreat-grandmother, Patricia Ann Gaines, is raising them and getting
coaching from the school on how to read to them frequently, and she is
determined to see them reach the middle class.

“I want them to go to college, be trouble-free, have no problem with
incarceration,” she said.

Research suggests that high-poverty parents, some of them stressed-out kids
themselves, don’t always “attach” to their children or read or speak to
them frequently. One well-known study found that a child of professionals hears
30 million more words by the age of
a child on welfare.

So the idea is that even the poorest child in Oklahoma should have access
to the kind of nurturing that is routine in middle-class homes. That way,
impoverished children don’t begin elementary school far behind the starting
line — and then give up.

President Obama called in his State of the Union
year for a nationwide early education program like this, for mountains of
research suggests that early childhood initiatives are the best way to chip
away at inequality and reduce the toll of crime, drugs and educational
failure. Repeated studies suggest that these programs pay for themselves: build
preschools now, or prisons

Because Obama proposed this initiative, Republicans in Washington are
leery. They don’t want some fuzzy new social program, nor are they inclined
to build a legacy for Obama. Yet national polling suggests that a majority
of Republicans favor early-education initiatives, so I’d suggest that Obama
call for nationwide adoption of “The Oklahoma Project” and that Republicans
seize ownership of this issue as well.

It’s promising that here in Oklahoma, early education isn’t seen as a
Republican or Democratic initiative. It is simply considered an experiment
that works. After all, why should we squander human capacity and perpetuate
social problems as happens when we don’t reach these kids in time?

“This isn’t a liberal issue,” said Skip Steele, a Republican who is a Tulsa
City Council member
<http://www.tulsacouncil.org/councilors/district-6.aspx> and
strong supporter of early education. “This is investing in our kids, in our
future. It’s a no-brainer.”

Teachers, administrators and outside evaluators agree that students who go
through the preschool program end up about half a year ahead of where they
would be otherwise.

“We’ve seen a huge change in terms of not only academically the preparation
they have walking into kindergarten, but also socially,” saidKirt
the superintendent of Union Public Schools in Tulsa. “It’s a huge
jump-start for kids.”

Oklahoma began a pilot prekindergarten program in 1980, and, in 1998, it
passed a law providing for free access to prekindergarten for all
4-year-olds. Families don’t have to send their children, but three-quarters
of them attend.

In addition, Oklahoma provides more limited support for needy children 3
and under. Oklahoma has more preschools known as Educare
which focus on poor children beginning in their first year, than any other

Oklahoma also supports home visits so that social workers can coach
stressed-out single moms (or occasionally dads) on the importance of
reading to children and chatting with them constantly. The social workers
also drop off books; otherwise, there may not be a single children’s book
in the house.

The Oklahoma initiative is partly a reflection of the influence of George
B. Kaiser, a Tulsa billionaire who searched for charitable causes with the
same rigor as if he were looking at financial investments. He decided on
early education as having the highest return, partly because neuroscience
shows the impact of early interventions on the developing brain and partly
because careful studies have documented enormous gains from early education.

So Kaiser began investing in early interventions in Oklahoma and advocating
for them, and, because of his prominence and business credentials, people
listened to the evidence he cited. He also argues, as a moral issue, that
all children should gain fairer access to the starting line.

“Maybe the reason that rich, smart parents had rich, smart children wasn’t
genetics,” Kaiser told me, “but that those rich, smart parents also held
their kids, read to them, spent a lot of time with them.”

I tagged along as a social worker from Educare visited Whitney Pingleton,
27, a single mom raising three small children. They read to the youngest
and talked about how to integrate literacy into daily life. When you see a
stop sign, the social worker suggested, point to the letters, sound them
out and show how they spell “stop.”

Some of the most careful analysis of the Oklahoma results comes from a team
at Georgetown University led by William T. Gormley
 andpublished in peer-reviewed
The researchers find sharp gains in prereading, prewriting and
prearithmetic skills, as well as improvements in social skills. Some
experts think that gains in the ability to self-regulate and work with
others are even more important than the educational gains — and certainly
make for less disruptive classes. Gormley estimates that the benefits of
Oklahoma’s program will outweigh the costs by at least a ratio of 3 to 1.

So how about it, America?

Can we embrace “The Oklahoma Project” — not because it’s liberal or
conservative, but because it’s what is best for our kids and our country?
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the
Please also join me on Facebook <http://www.facebook.com/kristof> and
Google+ <https://plus.google.com/102839963139173448834/posts?hl=en>, watch
my YouTube videos <http://www.youtube.com/nicholaskristof> and follow me on
Twitter <http://twitter.com/nickkristof>.

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