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Indiana's Education Roundtable

Early Learning & School Readiness Early Learning & School Readiness

Parents are, and always will be, their children’s first and most important teachers. Brain research has established that the way the human brain develops during the first years of life has a significant impact on later learning and intellectual growth. Scientific evidence supports a clear and compelling connection between the quality of a child’s early learning experiences and later success in school and life.

Parents deserve to have the latest information on what they can do to promote healthy brain development in their infants and children. They must be supported in their efforts to provide the best quality care and learning opportunities for their children.

More than 500,000 children under the age of six live in our state. Three out of five of these children spend some or all of their day being cared for by someone other than a parent. In 2000, 62 percent of Indiana families with children under the age of six had both parents in the workforce. This number has been consistent for the last decade.

Quality child care is an issue that affects a broad cross section of our citizens. Many parents struggle to find and afford quality programs for their children. In Indiana, the average annual cost of child care for a four-year-old in a center is $4,732. In 2002, there were 12,068 Indiana children on the waiting list for child care subsidies. The National Education Goals Panel reports that in 1996, only 45% of 3- to 5- year olds from low-income families enrolled in preschool programs. This is in contrast to almost three quarters of children from high-income families that participated in preschool programs. Childcare and education cannot be thought of as separate entities.

High quality early childhood education is a good economic investment. Research shows that for every government dollar invested in high-quality, comprehensive early care and education, society saves $7.16 in welfare, special education, and criminal justice costs. Children who have participated in high-quality pre-Kindergarten programs demonstrate higher math and reading scores, stronger learning skills, increased creativity, better school attendance, improved health, and greater involvement by parents in elementary school. These children are less likely to drop out of school, less likely to repeat grades, less likely to need special education, and less likely to get into trouble with the law. Investments in early care and education save money in the long-run and provide children with more and better opportunities for success in life.

Conversely, children who do not receive the early learning experiences they need typically arrive at kindergarten lagging behind their classmates in what they know and are able to do. Chances of success with these children already are diminished while the cost of interventions designed to reverse a poor start steadily increase over time.

Scientific evidence shows that the quality of a young child’s environment and social experiences lays the groundwork for success in school and has decisive impact on the rest of the child’s life. This knowledge translates into an opportunity for Indiana policymakers to realize the interdependence and common goals of parents, childcare providers, preschool, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education.

Next Steps to Improve Student Achievement:

  1. Involve parents in planning and implementation of all early learning and school readiness efforts.
  2. Provide parents, pediatricians, and others who work with children with information regarding cognitive (brain) development and the importance of reading to infants and children.
  3. Guarantee access to appropriate health screenings and high-quality developmental checkups for all children birth to age 7.
    • Advocate that pediatricians check every child with good screening instruments regularly throughout the preschool years so that problems can be identified and addressed early.
    • Train parents, child care workers, and others to use parent-based screening tools to flag potential developmental problems and provide guidance to effective interventions.
    • Facilitate efforts to address the over-subscription of African American children to special education.
  4. Focus on reading.
    • Provide parents with information on what they can do to help their children become good readers.
    • Identify and promote family and community literacy efforts.
    • Provide professional development and training to help early care, preschool, and primary teachers master effective research-based reading strategies designed to make sure all children can read at grade-level by the end of grade 3.
    • Provide reading specialists at all primary grade levels to assist with reading instruction.
    • Provide formative reading assessments throughout the primary grades.
    • Provide immediate additional assistance to students with identified needs and to students not expected to be reading at grade level.
  5. Make sure every child has access to high quality programs that help prepare them for school.
    • Make voluntary preschool available for children academically at-risk.
    • Provide appropriate professional development and training to help early care and preschool teachers master effective research-based reading strategies.
    • Provide professional development and training to help early care and preschool teachers effectively work with and engage parents in early learning and school readiness efforts.
    • Provide parents with information and training to support their student’s learning and to strengthen school involvement skills.
    • Ensure that a system is in place in each community to facilitate a child’s transition from pre-school to formal school experience.
  6. Ask Indiana employers to invest in the state’s future workforce by providing or partnering to provide high-quality child care options for employees.
    • Find incentives for employers to offer high quality child care.
  7. Make high quality Kindergarten available for all children.
    • Support full-day Kindergarten for all children.
    • Make Kindergarten attendance mandatory.
    • Provide Hoosier children with the same advantage children across the country receive by making the statewide age for Kindergarten entry comparable with other states.
  8. Establish an Early Learning and School Readiness Commission for coordinating birth to age six early learning and school readiness experiences, giving greater priority to children and family issues, and working to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of programs that serve children and families.
    • Build on successful initiatives currently in place to integrate early childhood services and expand collaborative partnerships with business, education, human services, health, mental health, and others to support early learning.
    • Measure results of early learning and school readiness strategies over time to promote strategic planning and collaboration within government, as well as between government and communities.