Early education is a worthwhile investment

A recent study from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis highlights how students’ socioeconomic status and race relate to their educational development, according to an April 29 New York Times article.

The study indicates that students low on the socioeconomic spectrum perform as much as three grade levels behind where they should be. It also revealed race-related disparities in grade levels even among students of the same socioeconomic background.

On average, white students in Chicago perform 1.4 grade levels ahead of where they should be, while Hispanic students in the city perform one grade below and black students perform 1.6 grades below where they should be. 

Equity in education starts with early childhood education. The Head Start program, a federally funded initiative that provides early childhood education opportunities to low-income families, is due to receive a $570 million budget increase for the 2016 fiscal year, according to the House Appropriations Committee. 

However, the funding will only be meaningful if it is used correctly and effectively. Programs like Early Head Start and Head Start have carried out meaningful work in the past but can improve. They can do this by supporting parenting education, classroom resources and the recruitment and retention of better teachers, according to an August 2011 study on the effectiveness of early childhood education programs from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

“Reforms should be guided by systematic experimentation, with design alternatives based on what has produced large gains in the past and little deference to current program doctrine,” the study stated.

Effective design of early childhood education is just one piece of the puzzle. Providing students with resources is a vital contribution to their education that needs to remain consistent throughout their schooling. 

This study also provides evidence of a major flaw in the education system—the failure to acknowledge each student’s different learning needs, which require a more individualized approach to education. 

Students who are behind or even above their expected grade level are not helped by a system that does not provide the resources they need to progress. 

Aside from programs like Early Head Start and Head Start, schools should be prepared to address the needs of students who lack proper support at home to succeed in the classroom. Programs need to address learning obstacles such as parents who do not speak English or lack the time or background to help with homework.

In most cases, the students who get the most attention from teachers are those with involved parents who will advocate for their children if they are not getting proper resources or are falling behind. However, students with less involved parents are truly the ones that need attention. 

It is hard to ensure immediate results with reforms to the education system. The results will be seen over a lifetime. An April 6 article from the Economic Policy Institute argues that, over time, the permanent results of investments in early childhood education will include boosting economic growth, saving federal, state and local governments money, and lower incarceration rates.

The responsibility for the trends shown in Stanford’s study is ultimately on those in power who neglect to make changes to the educational system. Students do not have that power and cannot take the blame for failing if they are not provided with the proper guidance and resources to achieve success.