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Celia C. Ayala: Early education for future

Guest Commentary

Posted: October 5, 2010 7:52 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

With Los Angeles County mired in a deep economic recession, there is no question these are tough times for the unemployed in the Santa Clarita Valley, as well as the many businesses that are struggling to survive.

With many families in the county finding it hard to cope, and with no immediate relief in sight, it is not surprising another major threat to our region’s future economic well-being is not being widely discussed in the business community or the public arena.

That threat, which may threaten America’s position as the world’s preeminent economic power, is our slide in world rankings as it pertains to creating an educated future work force capable of competing in an increasingly tougher world economy.

An alarmingly high number of students are dropping out of high school and college.

According to the Institute For a Competitive Work force, a nonprofit, nonpartisan affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in high school-graduation rates the United States ranks 20th out of 28 industrialized countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The U.S. also ranks 15th out of 27 OECD countries in college graduation, and ranks second out of 27 countries in the  percentage of students (more than 40 percent) who enter college and leave without earning a degree.

That should be of great concern to the business community, because it is estimated 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs in America require some post-secondary education.

What is the solution? You may be surprised to hear that increased investment in early childhood education is one strategy the business community ought to embrace more fully.

According to a 2010 report titled “Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education,” the Institute for a Competitive Work force firmly believes investment in high-quality early-learning programs for children from birth to age 5 yield high returns.

In fact, research shows that for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 in the years ahead.

Early-childhood education, including quality preschool, is not only a smart investment with positive returns, but it is the right thing to do, the institute’s report concludes.

“Our nation cannot afford the cost of inaction,” the report states. “In decades past, the United States proudly claimed premier international status as home to the best and brightest. Today’s U.S. rankings, however, prove that we have a long way to go to reach the top of the list again.”

The institute warns that with current early childhood education resource levels, too many kindergartners will continue to begin school ill-prepared. Furthermore, language skills and achievement scores in math and reading will likely remain at mediocre levels, costs for interventions during the K-12 years and after will continue to rise and high school graduation rates and post-secondary degree completion rates will likely remain unchanged.

As a result, businesses will lack the necessary work force to fill the jobs of the future.

It is a fact that other countries have a better understanding of the value of investing in early childhood education. They know it can have a significant short- and long-term positive impact on children and society, including helping to ensure a future skilled and educated work force — something the business community sorely needs.

Sadly, middle-income families in America are increasingly being squeezed by the cost of early education. Furthermore, only half of children from low-income families are enrolled in public or private preschools.

Universal preschool is available in places like Great Britain, Scandinavia and France, but not in the United States. With China investing money to make preschool available more widely as part of a push to develop a highly skilled work force, the United States continues to fall behind.

In fact, America is one of the few highly developed countries that does not have close to a universal preschool system in place.

According to ICW, eight states — Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York and West Virginia — plus Washington, D.C., have committed to providing a preschool education for all children. Hopefully someday California will also follow suit.

Until then, business leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley and greater Los Angeles need to familiarize themselves with the benefits of high-quality early-learning programs, and convey to policy makers the importance of public investment in early education.

Our future is at stake.

Celia C. Ayala, Ph.D., is CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool. LAUP funds preschool programs for approximately 10,000 children annually in more than 325 preschools across Los Angeles County including the Santa Clarita Valley. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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