Our View: How high-quality early childhood education makes the difference

By Melanie Mitros & Todd Sanders
Phoenix Business Journal

The foundation for educational success starts at birth.

A high-quality early childhood education – whether in a home-based or center-based setting – provides children a safe, healthy and nurturing environment. This environment, which includes quality teachers and support staff as well as allows a student-to-teacher ratio and curriculum that fosters learning and development, is what sets apart high-quality programs.

According to a recent poll conducted by Moore Information, more than 70% of voters support Arizona investing in high-quality early childhood education opportunities.

And it’s no surprise, according to James Heckman, an expert in the economics of human development. He finds children who attend high-quality programs are more likely to graduate from high school, continue with higher education and have higher earning ability. The link between high-quality early childhood experiences and future success is clear.

Research tells us that a child’s brain develops more rapidly from birth to age 5 than at any other time in life. In addition, studies have shown that achieving reading proficiency by the end of third grade is one of the strongest predictors of future success in school.

This means that young children need access to environments that give them the opportunity to explore and to process new experiences that are critical to brain development. They learn through play-based activities that use language, literacy skills and social interaction – all of which are important tools for healthy brain development and success when entering school.

In fact, a lack of language and literacy-rich learning experiences contributes to an achievement gap that develops well before children begin kindergarten.

High-quality early learning environments give children the tools they need to start kindergarten ready to learn and to read proficiently by the end of third grade.

In 2019, only 46% of Arizona’s third-grade students are reading at the third-grade level.

As for the other 54%, many will lose ground and fall further behind. This group is also more likely to drop out of school.

Both quality early learning and third-grade reading are part of the Arizona Education Progress Meter, a series of statewide goals focused on closing the achievement gap, increasing educational attainment and preparing a highly skilled workforce. The Progress Meter is supported by Arizona’s business and education communities as well as elected officials.

If we are to ensure the success of our state, then we need to work together to support children at every step of their education journey.

As we talk about improving education in Arizona, high-quality early childhood education must be part of the conversation. This matters not only for our children, but also for our future workforce and economy. Without robust education systems and diverse talent pipelines, our state will struggle to develop the talent we need to thrive.

Get more information about our efforts to support our children and economy through the Arizona Early Childhood Funders Collaborative at BornToLearnAZ.com.

Melanie Mitros is director of strategic community partnerships at Vitalyst Health Foundation and chair of the Arizona Early Childhood Funders Collaborative; Todd Sanders is president and CEO, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.