WHY IT MATTERS
Kindergarten readiness starts long before a child enters a formal education setting. Neuroscience research has shown the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday – are a critical time period that set the stage for a person’s intellectual development and lifelong health. Brain development, and therefore learning, begins with the health, nutrition and wellbeing of mothers during pregnancy. The brain development that occurs following birth, through a child’s second birthday, is also noted as one of the most critical building blocks for educational success. Brain development at this stage is based on good nutrition, talking, playing and building positive emotional bonds with others.
Research by Nobel Laureate economist, Professor James Heckman, indicates investing in early childhood education is a cost-effective strategy for promoting economic growth. His analysis shows a seven to 10 percent per year return on investment based on increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs in remedial education, health and criminal justice expenditures. Heckman’s research shows early interventions (prevention) for disadvantaged children produce higher returns than remedial programs, offering an $8.60 return for every dollar spent. In addition, a meta-analysis of 123 comparative studies of early childhood intervention consistently showed quality preschool significantly benefits school readiness and success.
These findings are supported by the Perry Preschool Project, a longitudinal study that followed participants who attended a high-quality preschool program for more than 40 years, which showed the benefits continue into adulthood. Compared to a control group who did not attend preschool, Perry participants were five times less likely to be arrested; more likely to hold a college degree, own a home and be employed.
To ensure the health and well-being of future generations, and the economic prosperity of our community, we must invest in early learning opportunities and the family support structures that create quality early learning environments for our children.
The reality is that most children who start kindergarten behind stay behind. Research tells us that only one in seven children who are behind in third grade will ever catch up.
Currently, 44 percent of IRC kindergarteners are on grade level by the end of kindergarten. This increases slightly to 56 percent by the end of third grade. There are a number of risk factors that contribute to children arriving at school not prepared, many of which stem from poverty conditions. The limitations poverty imposes on families are real and significant. According to the United Way ALICE Report 47% of families in IRC are unable to meet basic food, housing and health needs. These Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed families make more than the federal poverty level, but not enough to cover the basic cost of living. Childcare is a significant portion of a household’s budget and with limited resources there are few options for affordable care that is also high in quality. Although the state of Florida provides subsidy dollars for childcare for children 0-3 years old (School Readiness Program, SRP), as well as funding for all four and early five-year old children to attend Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK), the dollar amount ranks among the lowest in the nation. In addition, while access to VPK is high, quality guidelines are also among the lowest. Florida standards meet just three out of 10 national best practices as reported by The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
Over the past 12 months, the KRC investigated a child’s path from conception to kindergarten. The process involved gathering data from various service providers that was often difficult to access. Collaborative members also visited many promising practices both locally and throughout the State to gain new insight and knowledge about how others are addressing kindergarten readiness. This effort not only brought forth new ideas, but allowed members the valuable opportunity to develop relationships and trust that will lead to more effective collaboration in the future. Throughout the course of the year, the Collaborative hosted three community summits to give members and other community leaders the opportunity to share what they learned and gather critical feedback and engagement on next step strategies.
The early years of a child’s life are a complex and changing environment which are impacted by multiple factors. Historically, our community has had several attempts to shore up the early learning sector, and while small gains have been achieved, none have resulted in widespread impact. Because of the complexities, the KRC has adopted an Emergent Learning approach to find innovative solutions. This strategy recognizes our best answers to current problems are really only hypotheses that we can test, adjust and adapt on the way to success. Challenges are a stepping stone toward the right solution, rather than a failure that will put us back at step one.
This process of data gathering, research, best practice site visits and community summits produced the findings and recommendations contained in this Strategic Plan.