Last week, the New York Times posted an OP-ED piece by Nicholas Kristof, “Too Small To Fail“ (June 2, 1016), in which he advocates strongly for universal preschool to combat poverty. He states that “If we want to get more kids in universities, we should invest in preschools.” He states that brain research in the last dozen years underscores that the time of life that may shape adult outcomes the most is pregnancy through age 2 or 3. He quotes James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago: “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.”
Additional research is quoted from a book from the Russell Sage Foundation, “Too Many Children Left Behind,” which notes that 60 to 70 percent of the achievement gap between rich and poor kids is already evident by kindergarten. The book recommends investing in early childhood, for that’s when programs often have the most impact and when the brain is developing most quickly. He presents a new collection of essays from Harvard Education Press, “The Leading Edge of Early Childhood Education,” which states that “toxic stress” from poverty impairs brain circuits responsible for impulse control, working memory, emotional regulation, error processing and healthy metabolic functioning. The point being made is that early-childhood programs protect those brains.
My response was posted in the “Sunday Review” Section of the NY Times (June 12, 2016):
To the Editor: As evidenced by recent articles, editorials and studies on how to achieve improved outcomes and school readiness for children born into poverty, access to preschool during the early years continues to be the primary focus. At the same time, there is an increasing body of research that overcrowded, substandard housing conditions, residential mobility, and stressors on parents when they must choose between paying the rent or feeding their children can have a lifelong impact on the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of young children.
Only when we begin to recognize that stable housing provides the vital platform for improved child and family well-being will we begin to make a dent in breaking the cycle of poverty that seems to be worsening and intractable. While access to preschool can certainly help, there is a serious communication gap here that demonstrates the pitfalls of working in silos.
TANYA TULL, President, Partnering for Change,
Additional responses to the Op-Ed piece can be viewed in Letters to the Editor – Helping Children Thrive – June 12, 1016