Investing in the First Three Years of Life Can Greatly Impact School Success

Research has proven that high-quality early childhood programs – particularly those targeted to children at risk for poor outcomes – can provide a considerable return on investment in terms of economic gains and educational outcomes.

Neural connections formed during a child’s first three years of life are vital for healthy brain development and form the foundation for future learning. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Betsy Hodges. It is the second post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.

It is incumbent upon us as city leaders to create cities that are focused on the future, not just the present. All cities will face similar challenges down the road, from workforce shortages to racial achievement gaps; we must be willing to address those challenges today by forming the next generation of citizens. That means reaching children as early as possible.

In the city of Minneapolis, I have formed the Cradle to K Cabinet to develop and implement a plan of action that makes very young children and their families a priority. Here’s why: research consistently demonstrates that the first three years of life are critical to children’s healthy growth and development. In every second of those first three years, more than 700 new neural connections are formed. These connections are vital for healthy brain development and form the foundation for future learning.

Infant brains are wired to absorb their environment, and positive early experiences in safe, supportive, nurturing environments facilitate healthy development. During this period of early growth and development it is vital that infants and very young children receive positive stimulation from a caring parent or adult that will allow them to grow and thrive.

Unfortunately, not all children receive such positive stimulation; far too many are exposed to toxic and stressful environments that impede their development. As a result, disparities and inequities occur early, and gaps in learning and development widen over time.

Mayor Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet consists of multi-sector experts, leaders, and parents working to prevent disparities by aligning policies, closing gaps, and increasing resources where needed to ensure that all Minneapolis children have a healthy start, are stably housed, and have continuous access to high-quality, child-development-centered child care and early education. (City of Minneapolis)

In 2013, Stanford University researcher Anne Fernald found that, by the time a child is two years old, there is already a six-month gap in language comprehension. This means that too many children are already behind by the time they enter school. Such an early learning gap is the strongest predictor of the persistent achievement gap in educational attainment.

Quality early education programs can mitigate these risks. Investments during formative years will ensure that all children get the best possible start to early learning and future school success.

Minnesota economist Art Rolnick’ s substantive research on, and advocacy for, investments in high-quality early childhood programs – particularly those targeted to children at risk for poor outcomes – has proven that they can provide a considerable societal return on investment in terms of economic gains and educational outcomes. For every dollar invested in high-quality early care and education programs, up to $13.00 in future costs are returned. Access to quality early care and education programs helps parents fulfill their parental responsibilities and allows them to go to work and provide for their children. Children that graduate from these programs have yielded benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment.

I continue to advocate for the necessary federal and state resources that support the healthy development of young children. Federal programs and initiatives like the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start/Early Head Start, Community (or Federally Qualified) Health Centers, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Community Development Block Grants are just a few of the federal investments that support this critical need. The loss or significant reduction of these programs would impact the success of our future generations.

City leaders like ourselves must foster early learning and allow children and families to have access to high-quality, accessible early education programs and learning environments that are responsive to the needs of families and ensure that children are on a path to early learning and lifelong success.

For specific information on how you can invest in early childhood education, read NLC’s Early Childhood Learning: Building Blocks for Success and Educational Alignment Framework for Young Children.

About the author: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges took office in 2014 after spending eight years on the Minneapolis City Council.

The City of Wichita Leads the Way in Career and Technical Education

Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

(Getty Images)

A 2013 report by the Brookings Institution reported that the city of Wichita was one of three American cities which had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Jeff Longwell. This is the first post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.

As the mayor of Wichita, Kansas, I have seen the importance of investing in Career and Technical Education (CTE). At NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Task Force meeting, I emphasized the role of local leaders in developing opportunities for youth and adults to gain meaningful employment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines and technical industries. In Wichita, we have experienced the value of CTE as a conduit for rewarding careers in the fields of automotive maintenance and technology, advanced manufacturing, information technology, climate and energy control, and healthcare.

Wichita is known as the “Air Capital” of the world because of our expansive global aviation supply chain. Many of the early aviation pioneers came from, or have roots in, Kansas. This has enabled Wichita to also pioneer new technologies in advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing and robotics.

The specialized technical education required for these jobs often can be completed in a one- to two-year program. It is precisely these career technical education programs that are important to creating a successful and available workforce. Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

In 2013, the Brookings Institution reported that the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and Wichita had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. This report also found that half of STEM jobs do not require a four-year degree, although they pay 10 percent more on average than jobs with similar educational requirements. This knowledge has been a strength of our local economy for many decades, and it has helped build our industries and improve our citizens’ lives. Cities across our nation could benefit from increased access to quality credential programs and career pathways.

The state of Kansas recognized this several years ago and created scholarships that encourage people to obtain a variety of two-year technical certificates and degrees that help to grow our economy. The Kansas Department of Education prepares secondary students for this opportunity by using the National Career Cluster Model, grouping similar job skills into 16 fields of studies as Career Clusters. By developing structured career pathways, Kansas secondary students can access further education and employment opportunities right after high school graduation. The career pathways offered are developed in collaboration with business and industry leaders to ensure relevant and trade-worthy skills are embedded into the CTE secondary curriculum.

In Kansas, skilled automotive technicians who have completed a two-year education program can often earn six-figure salaries in the industry within the first few years of their career. Even with this reality, we see many industries and companies struggle to find people with the proper credentials and technical education to fill these jobs.

Here in Wichita, we are proud to have a leading example in our Wichita Area Technical College (WATC). This nationally-recognized technical college recently launched the Wichita Promise, a scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for training and certification for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs. Recently launched in 2016, the program works with local employers and provides personal career coaching and a guaranteed interview upon completion. WATC also works with our local high schools, providing students access to low-cost or free college and technical courses before students even graduate from high school.

In partnership with the new presidential administration and CTE advocates across the nation, I believe that adequate funding and marketing strategies can encourage education leaders, high school counselors, students and parents to explore a career and technical education pathway.

The critical requirement is that state and federal lawmakers support access to these opportunities and promote quality one- to two-year career technical education programs for adults and young people graduating high school. City leaders like myself have an important leadership role to play in guiding the momentum of our communities’ economic growth. With CTE, we can help employers find a ready and skilled workforce in our cities and improve citizens’ access to training and education, preparing them for quality, well-paying careers.

About the author: Mayor Jeff Longwell was elected to office in April 2015 and sits on NLC’s Mayors’ Education Task Force. He is a long-time resident of Wichita, having grown up in a west-side neighborhood and attended West High School and Wichita State University. Mayor Longwell began his community involvement as a member of the Board of Education at the Maize School, where his children attended school.