I've long argued that ongoing political gridlock and general voter issue apathy make education unlikely to matter much for presidential politics. But early education has, from time to time, seemed like an exception. This is great! There are considerable, substantive reasons to invest in quality early education programs. But not all of these investments are designed, created, or implemented equally.
Why? In a just-published column for the 74 Million, I try to explore one of the major causes of this gap between quality early education politicians promise and the weaker programs they often build:
The usual case for early education is already well established in American public discourse. Research shows that low-income children fall behind their wealthier peers’ language development almost from birth. By age three, the children from the poorest American families have heard an average of 30 million fewer words than children from the wealthiest families. These gaps only grow in the years before elementary school.Click here to read the entire column."
[E]arly word gaps can’t just be closed by rattling off a number of words. Quality matters. Rich, robust language use builds vocabulary and literacy. But pre-K programs’ capacity to deliver that sort of language varies considerably. This should be relatively intuitive: these programs work by exposing children with low linguistic development to the speech of highly-literate adults. So a program’s effectiveness fluctuates along with the literacy levels of its teachers.