What's the Impact

Early childhood programs are a good investment, with inflation-adjusted annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return.
Ben Bernanke
Former Federal Reserve Chairman

Lack of proficient literacy and early learning skills has far-reaching consequences for students and society. Students who start kindergarten behind form the largest group of dropouts, and they have less than a 12 percent chance of attending a four-year university.

Schools don’t create the multi-year achievement gap seen on the first day of kindergarten. The achievement gap happens when there is a preparation gap in a child’s earliest years. But when children enter school, the gap created before kindergarten typically follows them year after year. So students who are behind, stay behind.

 

Every day of a child's earliest years matters

Families, schools and communities all have a role to play to ensure every child receives the lifelong advantages of literacy and early learning before an achievement gap is created.

Children need to enter school with basic reading, math, social and emotional skills. From birth to age 5, when a child’s brain develops rapidly, is the time to build the foundation of cognitive abilities and character. These early skills are necessary for success in school, health, career and life.

Impact on children

The children who are truly at risk in this country are those who cannot read. Academic, emotional and social issues abound for children who are poor readers. Children who are behind their peers in reading struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy and stupidity. Low achievement in reading is also the common denominator in school discipline, attendance and dropout problems, and juvenile crime.

Academically, children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade struggle in every class, year after year, because over 85 percent of the curriculum is taught by reading. Reading is the skill by which students get information from books, computers, worksheets and boards to learn math, science, literature, social studies and more.

Impact on society

Third graders who cannot read on grade-level today are on track to be our nation’s lowest-income, least-skilled citizens. Reading is a prerequisite for most adult employment, continued personal achievement, and for a continued democracy. Among welfare recipients 33 percent are functionally illiterate, and a $60 billion annual loss in productivity and health and safety issues is caused by illiteracy. And sadly, some states use their elementary students’ reading failure rates to predict future prison sizes.

But this impact on children, schools and society can be mitigated.

Students who need interventions, such as additional assistance by teachers with special training and curriculum, are twice as expensive to educate. Most school districts spend $1,800 to $3,400 per child, per year on students who need remediation. This catch-up growth is very expensive and historically unsuccessful because children who are behind must achieve their normal year of growth plus another year of growth to catch up by even a single level.

Fostering essential reading and math skills is up to 10 times less expensive from birth to age 5, than from kindergarten to fifth grade. By allocating a fraction of their remediation budgets, schools and communities can significantly narrow the readiness-gap in a positive, proactive way. The short-term costs are more than offset by the immediate and long-term benefits through reduction in the need for special education and remediation.