The Research on Early Childhood Education

Click here to read a 2009 Southern Education Foundation report on how an investment in early childhood education will improve Mississippi’s economy and the life-chances of our children.

Mississippi faces a critical problem with children who arrive in kindergarten without the basic skills necessary for learning to take place. Many of these children arrive with no concept of a letter, a number or a shape; they do not understand that text conveys meaning. Many have no idea even how to hold a book.

In fact, a study of the children in Mississippi’s Reading First Schools showed that a full 60% of Mississippi children who entered those programs had vocabularies significantly below their age level, and many of them entered 5K with the vocabulary of a 1- or 2-year-old child. I have heard stories from teachers of Mississippi children who entered 5K with a 20-word vocabulary.

Children who arrive in kindergarten without the basic skills necessary to learn typically are being reared in poverty by parents who themselves have very low levels of education. The children who are most at risk of falling into this category are the children of the working poor.

Fast Facts About Early Childhood Education

· Research has shown that when children are provided high quality pre-kindergarten experiences…

o They have higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21

o Their academic achievement in both reading and math is higher from the primary grades through young adulthood

o They complete more years of education and are more likely to attend a four-year college

o They are older, on average, when their first child is born

Source: The Abecedarian Project; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

· For every dollar spent on participants in the Chicago Child Parent Centers, researchers claim that $10 is returned by age 25 either in benefits to society – such as savings on remediation in school and on the criminal-justice system – or directly to the participant, in the form of higher earnings. The Chicago Child Parent Centers, started in 1985, were created in the public schools of Chicago for low-income African American and Hispanic families with children from ages 3- to 9-years-old.

Source: Education Week

· In Mississippi, three times as many children are retained in kindergarten and first grade as in later grades

· In the 2007-2008 school year, Mississippi spent over $28-million on children retained in Kindergarten and First grade

· Children who are retained in school are exponentially more likely to drop out

· A child who is retained twice has only a 10% chance of graduating from high school

· Each year, more than 2,000 Mississippi kids drop out of school before they ever get to high school

· Mississippi is one of only 10 states that have no state funded pre-k – and the only southern state without state funded pre-k

· Of all states, Mississippi has the highest percent of working moms with children under 5 years of age (more than 61%)

· Many pre-k programs are purely custodial rather than educational

Excellent Return on Investment

Done well, an Early Childhood Education program will provide the best investment possible of state tax dollars, bar none. A recent Southern Education Foundation report (pp. 14 & 15) cited reports by the Business Roundtable, the Committee for Economic Development and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis demonstrating that high-quality pre-k programs provide the best of any long-term investment for economic growth. The following is an excerpt from that report:
In recent years, economists and business groups across the nation have begun to document the importance of early childhood education as an investment in economic development. In the last couple of years, for example, the Business Roundtable (representing America’s top 500 corporations), the committee for Economic Development (a 60-year-old national business group), and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis have issued reports demonstrating that high-quality Pre-k programs provide the best long-term investment for economic growth. In their words, the economic return “on investment from early childhood development is extraordinary.” Pre-K offers “greater potential returns and substantially less risk” than state subsidies and incentives that try to attract plant locations, company headquarters, office towers, entertainment centers or professional sports stadiums and arenas.

Head Start: The Misconceptions

A common misconception is that Head Start is available to all children growing up in poverty. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The income requirements to qualify for Head Start are very stringent, and many children in poverty do not qualify.

In 2009, a single parent with one child was required to have a gross income below $13,690/year to qualify for Head Start. So, if the single parent with one child made $13,700, the child did not qualify to attend Head Start. The income of a single parent with two children could not exceed $17,170 per year. It is probably safe to say that this parent’s income would not allow him/her to send the child to preschool. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 Mississippi children in each age group fall into this category. These are the kids who are falling through the cracks.

Steps in the Right Direction

In 2009, Mississippi business leaders provided funding to launch Mississippi Building Blocks, a pilot early learning and development program that works with existing childcare centers to improve the school readiness of Mississippi children. The program is intended to provide the model for the statewide early learning plan. Click here to learn about other efforts to improve early learning in Mississippi.

Since the 2009 legislative session, the Legislature has allocated $3-million annually to improve the quality of private childcare centers. Legislation passed in the 2006 session expanded the Mississippi Child Care Quality Step System to provide incentives to programs that improve their quality, and a Statewide Child Care Resource and Referral System to provide information to parents and training for childcare providers. In 2010, the Legislature approved a bill making it possible for school districts to use any available resources to implement early learning programs in their school districts.


In an effort to better understand the challenges faced by Mississippi children who lack early learning or pre-k opportunities, The Parents’ Campaign in 2008 asked teachers, administrators, and parents to share with us their experiences with children who arrived in kindergarten behind their peers cognitively, socially, and verbally. See the stories.

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