Posted by Rich Huddleston on November 4th 2013
The nation is failing to invest enough in a child's early years, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, says kids who enter kindergarten with below-average language and cognition ability need more support to develop their social, emotional, and learning skills.
The report details how a child's development across critical areas of well-being is essential to make the effective transition into elementary school. According to a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that began to track 13,000 children who were in kindergarten in 1998-99, only 36 percent of children were on track in the cognitive knowledge and skills area by the time they reached third grade. There is slightly better news that more were reported on track in the areas of physical well-being (56 percent), social and emotional growth (70 percent), and school engagement (74 percent).
"All children need nurturing and sufficient resources that can provide for their basic needs during their crucial first eight years," said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Foundation. "Today's complicated world can strain families' ability to ensure their children are receiving all the stimulation and care they need to develop to their full potential."
The report says that for children to succeed, it is vital for classroom learning to be integrated with other aspects of child development. Many states, including Arkansas, have already begun the work of bringing the programs and services for young children and families into a cohesive system. The report sets forth three broad policy recommendations:
- Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children. States and the federal government should make it easier for parents to navigate the array of programs that can help families by aligning and streamlining services.
- Increase access to high-quality birth through age eight programs, beginning with investments that target low-income children. States should adopt Early Learning and Development Standards that set clear expectations for child development. They also should provide resources needed for all children to reach important benchmarks, such as grade-level reading proficiency by third grade. Arkansas successfully passed legislation in 2013 to support and improve home visiting programs. These programs provide much needed help and guidance to low-income families.
- Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of a child's development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children. States should use consistent measures of child development that provide broad assessments of well-being, including progress across key aspects of development. Arkansas hopes to expand its current education longitudinal data system with more data from early childhood programs. The home visiting legislation included measures to facilitate data system improvements.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Executive Director Rich Huddleston says Arkansas has made some progress in these areas, but more could be done.
"We, along with our partners at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and many others, are part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which is already off to a great start in making sure more kids can read at grade level by the end of third grade," Huddleston says. "We're actually ahead of the curve when it comes to access to pre-K programs for 3 and 4 year olds. However, pre-K funding has been held at the same level for the past five years. We want to see that increased. So we're making some headway in some of these areas, but obviously, we'd like to see more improvement."