New Castle News

July 12, 2013

Robert G. Naugle: Early education builds good foundation

Robert G. Naugle
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In any building, a strong foundation is crucial.

If the base isn’t properly designed, there will be problems for the life of the structure.

The same is true with children. A strong foundation points them in the right direction for life. That’s why high-quality early childhood education is a smart investment for the economy and our communities.

Decades of research show that high-quality early learning averts problems that could appear later in life, when it’s too late for correction. From birth to age 5, the brains of young children are rapidly growing and developing. In those critical years, the right stimulation and enrichment help children develop learning and social capabilities for life.  

Children from high-quality preschool programs are more likely to enter school ready to learn. Without quality early childhood education, disadvantaged children can enter school 12 to 18 months developmentally behind their peers. Research from the National Institute for Early Education Research demonstrates that until third grade, children are learning to read. After that, they read to learn. Those who lack the capability to absorb new information will fall farther behind every year.

Children at risk of school failure who can’t access high-quality early childhood education are more likely to drop out of school, abuse alcohol and drugs, become dependent on public assistance, and even get involved with the criminal justice system.

Nothing is more important than education — a belief I’ve long held as the husband of a teacher and as a school architect, designing spaces that inspire children to learn. However, I’ve seen wide variations in the capabilities of young children when they enter school. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis shows that achievement gaps are deeply entrenched by the time children enter kindergarten, with children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds trailing their better-off peers.

Here in Lawrence County, 72 percent of young children live in economically at-risk families, compared to 60 percent statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning.

Quality early learning can help close these gaps. High-quality early childhood education can counteract adverse circumstances and avert later-life consequences.

Emerging research shows that quality earIy learning cultivates children’s innate curiosity. From birth to age 5, children also build 90 percent of their capabilities for problem-solving, teamwork, communications and critical thinking, according to Harvard University. These characteristics are the building blocks of strong foundations for learning and socialization. They are also the qualities sought by employers, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

I applaud and support the meaningful investments made by Gov. Tom Corbett and the state legislature in the 2013-14 state budget, and I agree that more children, especially those at risk of failing in school, should have the opportunity to experience high-quality early learning programs. Every child has the right to be school-ready.

Children who start life with a strong foundation are more likely to thrive. They will mature into the employees that businesses want to hire and the citizens who contribute to their communities.

(Robert G. Naugle is president of Eckles Architecture & Engineering, Inc. and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.)