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Something to be thankful for: High-quality early childhood education (video)

If you missed it over the weekend, PNC Bank Regional President Jim Hansen penned an excellent op-ed highlighting the importance of investing in early learning. Hansen writes in the Raleigh News & Observer [1] about a recent poll that finds voters of all parties believe early childhood education should be a top national priority:

North Carolina has high-quality early-learning programs that produce good results. Duke University researchers found that N.C. third-graders had higher reading and math scores and lower special education placements in counties that spent more money on Smart Start and NC PreK. Unfortunately, far too few children benefit. Only 21 percent of our 4-year-olds are enrolled in NC PreK.

By 2020, 67 percent of jobs in North Carolina will require some post-secondary education. Yet the majority of our fourth-graders are not proficient in a key predictor of future academic success: reading. Raleigh groups such as Wake Up and Read are working on this issue, but there is an urgent need for community consensus and action.

N.C. employers say they have trouble finding people with the right skills. Six out of 10 N.C. employers reported communications skills gaps among job applicants, and close to half reported deficiencies in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The most effective way to address these challenges is throughout a child’s early life, when 85 percent of brain development occurs. As Nobel Laureate Professor James J. Heckman says, “Human capital begins at birth. The foundation for school, career and life success is largely determined through the development of cognitive and character skills beginning in children’s earliest years.”

It makes sense. Children’s earliest experiences determine how their brains are wired. Brain development is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “Brains are built, not born.”

We need to know what our community, corporate and political leaders are doing to support quality early education. With the stakes so high and with such clear results from the poll, it’s important for each of us to do all we can to support the education of our youngest citizens.

Read Hansen’s full op-ed here [1].

For more on the lasting benefits of high-quality pre-k programs, listen to NC Policy Watch’s recent interview with Tracy Zimmerman, executive director of the NC Early Childhood Foundation [2]. Click below to hear an excerpt of Zimmerman’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon. The entire podcast can be accessed here [3].