In the highly competitive globalized economy, American college students are already outnumbered by their Chinese and Indian counterparts. In 2011 about two-thirds of eighth graders tested below proficient in both math and reading on National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments. These numbers hold steady for graduating seniors as well. Only 25 percent of the 2011 graduating class met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks, according to figures released by the college admissions testing organization. Of those students who do go on to college, only about half earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. These poor student outcomes are most pronounced among poorer children.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund—a public-private partnership that invests in the healthy development of at-risk infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and their families—summarizes a broad field of research showing that, without high-quality early childhood intervention, an at-risk child is:
- 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
- 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
- 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
- 60 percent more likely to never attend college
- 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
Heckman’s research finds, however, that at-risk children who participate in intensive pre-education pilot programs do better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, and are ultimately more likely to transition to successful adult lives.
Without question, the United States faces many urgent educational and economic challenges. Chief among them is the need to create a high-quality early learning system that reaches far more children than the current system permits.
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