Monday, February 1, 2010

Can't Afford to Wait

It seems like I was just writing about the value of early childhood education and interventions when another bit of research came across my desk that really bolsters the point. A study comparing the relative effects of neighborhood poverty at early childhood and early adolescence found that the neighborhood kids live in when they're in first grade strongly predicts their reading levels in seventh grade regardless of where they live in seventh grade. In other words, a first grader in the South Bronx is likely to have a lower reading level when he hits seventh grade, even if he moves to the Upper East Side.

On the one hand, this seems pretty shocking. I mean, we'd like to think that schooling matters and that if circumstances improve children's learning will likewise improve. If we don't believe that, then a lot of other efforts seem kind of pointless.

On the other hand, it does make a certain amount of sense that the conditions under which kids first learn (or are supposed to learn) to read impact their entire reading career. A child who doesn't start learning the necessary skills early on will be playing catch up from then on. That's kind of bleak to consider.

The bottom line here, though, is that what happens to kids early matters. If we want to improve our schools and our education system, we need to start at the beginning and work our way up. That's going to have the strongest impact and it's going to make the most difference. If we wait, it may be too late.

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