Happy Holidays to All from NIEER

December 18, 2012

As this year winds down and we gear up for the next, I’d like to take some time to reflect on this past year and its highlights as well as wish you all a very merry holiday season and happy new year. We at NIEER thank you for all of your support and engagement on early childhood education issues.

It’s been a busy year for all of us here at NIEER. In March, NIEER researchers – in conjunction with Lakeshore Learning Materials – released a new preschool assessment, the Early Learning Scale (ELS). The ELS was developed based on extensive review of the research and with input from preschool teachers who piloted the tool. Focusing on the critical domains of Math/Science, Social-Emotional/Social Studies and Language & Literacy, the ELS provides teachers with a manageable and effective tool for assessing children’s progress toward early learning standards and expectations.

In April, we unveiled a new look to our web site, nieer.org, designed to be more user friendly and with new features such as a publication order form. That month we also released the ninth edition of The State of Preschool yearbook series at a press conference featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who joined me to emphasize the importance of improving state early education policies, as can be seen in the picture below. While nationwide total enrollment continued to increase, not all of the news was good, especially when we looked at 10-year trends showing that pre-K education was declining in terms of funding and quality standards. This bleak picture was picked up by the national – as well as state and local – news media, helping to open up a dialogue about publicly funded pre-K across the country. We are now hard at work collecting and cleaning data for the next edition of this important report, even as a lack of future funding puts this project at risk of discontinuation as highlighted by Lisa Guernsey in her article for The Huffington Post.

 Barnett Duncan 2011 YB release

Also in April, NIEER’s Associate Director of Research Milagros Nores visited Colombia for the launch of that country’s public-private initiative Primero es lo Primero (First Things First). As we’ve noted in the past, we are continuing to study the effectiveness of Colombian preschools in addition to other long-term studies we are conducting in the states of Arkansas and New Jersey.

I traveled extensively throughout the past year, speaking about the importance of intensity and quality in early childhood programs if the economic benefits of investing in early childhood education are to be realized. Here at home, interest remains high from New York, New York and Washington, D.C.  to San Antonio, Texas, where voters approved a modest tax to invest in early education, and points further west. Abroad, interest in increasing investments in the young children often surpasses that at home, taking me from Oslo, Norway and Guatemala City, Guatemala to Seoul, South Korea and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The picture below shows me meeting with Guatemalan Minister of Education Cynthia Del Águila de Sáenz de Tejada and others interested in early education in Guatemala City; other pictures from that trip can be found on NIEER’s Facebook page.

Barnett with de Tejada

In keeping with Rutgers University’s theme of “Jersey Roots, Global Reach,” NIEER also made efforts to work within our own local community, with NIEER Assistant Research Professor Alissa Lange receiving and implementing a grant to conduct a series of math-themed story times for preschoolers at the public library.

This year also saw progress on other fronts as NIEER successfully competed for several new grants, most notably winning a U.S. Department of Education grant to establish the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) along with our partners at the Education Development Center, Inc., and the Council of Chief State School Officers. We are delighted to welcome to the NIEER team Dr. Lori Connors-Tadros, Senior Project Director for CEELO at NIEER. CEELO will provide technical assistance and other supports for state education agencies to improve outcomes for early childhood education programs. Other recent grantors include The Schumann Fund for New Jersey, the Turrell Fund, The Nicholson Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

The NIEER offices will be closed from December 24 until January 2. When we return, we’ll be looking forward to another year of advancing research to improve educational outcomes for young children. And we’ll be looking forward to hearing from all of you – whether you give us a call, speak with us face-to-face at conferences, or visit us virtually on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or on our blog.

Again, all of us at NIEER wish all of our readers a happy holiday season.

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


Primero es lo Primero (First Things First): Public-Private Partnerships Invest in Young Children

April 25, 2012

In difficult economic times, public-private partnerships are an important strategy for increasing investments in young children, globally as well as in the United States. I had the opportunity to participate in the recent launch of a new initiative of the national government of Colombia and private organizations called Primero es lo Primero, which translates as “First Things First.” Primero es lo Primero is a partnership of some 30 private and public organizations, including NIEER. Leading the partnership is De Cero a Siempre (From Zero to Always), the national government’s strategy for comprehensive care for children. De Cero a Siempre has a particularly high profile because its spokesperson is Colombia’s dynamic First Lady Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos.

The Colombian government has committed $24 million dollars to start this initiative. Among the private partners, the Mario Santo Domingo Foundation has contributed another $20 million to build 13 early childhood centers in low-income areas across the country, serving 5,929 children under the age of 5. In addition, the aeioTu initiative of Fundación Carulla, a leading provider of early childhood education, will contribute $3.2 million to operating these 13 centers. Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation) and the ALAS Foundation, the two organizations associated with singer-songwriter and ECE advocate Shakira, also make up part of this partnership.

On April 12th, First Lady Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos, Pablo Obregón from the Mario Santo Domingo Foundation, Fundación Carulla president Ken Brotman, ALAS president Alejandro Santo Domingo, Shakira Mebarak, and others publicly announced this new partnership on behalf of young children. As about 56 percent of Colombia’s young children are in extreme poverty, this is an important move in the right direction, one that will enhance the life chances of thousands of children. 

The above picture of the event shows just a handful of the representatives of all the organizations that have come together in Colombia to strengthen their early childhood services and which is unprecedented in Latin America and the world. From right to left, the following individuals represent various types of organizations:

Milagros Nores (Assistant Research Professor, NIEER), Soraya Montoya (Executive Director, Fundación Saldarriaga Concha), Beatriz Londoño (Health Minister), Diego Molano (National Director of Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar), Bruce Mac Master (Director of the Administrative Office for Social Prosperity), Hernando José Buelvas Leiva (Mayor of San Jacinto), Pablo Gabriel Obregón (Fundación Mario Santo Domingo), María Clemencia Rodríguez de Santos (First Lady of Colombia), Alejandro Santo Domingo (President of ALAS), Shakira Mebarak (Founder of ALAS and Pies Descalzos), María Emma Mejía (General Secretary of UNASUR), Elisa Villaroel Acosta (First Lady of Santa Marta), Rosario Ricardo (Education Secretary of Cartagena), and María Fernanda Campo (National Education Minister).

While these and other partners press on to increase investments in quality early learning experiences in Colombia and throughout Latin America, we at NIEER continue to work with Fundación Carulla on research to illuminate best practices for such programs beginning in the first year of life and continuing to age 5, as I discussed in a previous blog post. I find it noteworthy that even as many states in our wealthy nation are cutting early childhood investments, other countries with fewer resources are finding creative ways to grow their commitments to young children. Perhaps creative private-public partnerships can contribute to forward movement in these and other states.

- Milagros Nores, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER


Giving Kids a Shot at Success: World Immunization Week

April 20, 2012

Beginning April 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching World Immunization Week, a global awareness campaign about the importance of vaccines in preventing diseases like measles and polio.  According to WHO’s website, “immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions and prevents debilitating illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases.” An estimated 2 to 3 million deaths are prevented annually due to vaccinations but, as of 2010, 19.3 million infants were not up to date on their immunizations. And, according to the United Nations Foundation, of the nearly 8 million children worldwide under the age of 5 who die each year from preventable diseases, a quarter of those deaths could have been prevented with proper vaccination.

Part of the play therapy center of Drottning Silvias barn- och ungdoms-sjukhus (Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital) in Göteborg, Sweden.
© Jen Fitzgerald

In the United States, the statistics are more uplifting – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, 95 percent of parents reported that their children got or would get all of their immunizations. However, approximately 5 percent of parents opted to decline some vaccines while 2 percent were not inclined to vaccinate their children at all, despite research from the American Academy of Pediatrics finding no long-term negative consequences to receiving all recommended immunizations.

As parents of preschoolers can attest, most centers require that children’s immunizations be up to date before enrolling. In addition, many programs require other health screenings before or during the preschool years. Pre-K is an important early opportunity to detect vision, hearing, and health problems that may impair a child’s learning and development. With this in mind, NIEER’s quality standards checklist includes a requirement that state-funded pre-K programs provide vision, hearing, and health screenings.  Along with our benchmarks on nutrition and support services, screenings and referrals support children’s overall well-being, including their physical and mental health.

Assuring that children are immunized is one element of comprehensive health screening (the others are health/weight/BMI, blood pressure, psychosocial/behavioral, and full physical exam). For The State of Preschool 2011 report, we specifically asked states about their pre-K policies regarding immunizations. The good news is that 40 state pre-K programs (out of 51 across the nation) require preschool students have immunizations; in addition, the District of Columbia’s two pre-K programs also require immunizations. The remaining state programs typically leave decisions about screenings up to local district discretion. (For more information about screening and referral requirements, see page 178 of Appendix A.)

Figure 1. State Pre-K Programs That Do Not Require Immunizations in State Policy*
California Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts
Florida South Carolina 4K
Kansas Pre-K Pilot Vermont Act 62
Massachusetts Vermont EEI
Nebraska Wisconsin 4K
Nevada

*This figure does not include states that do not have a state-funded pre-K program. Those states are: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Figure 2. State Pre-K Programs Requiring Immunizations
Alabama New Jersey ECPA
Alaska New Jersey ELLI
Arkansas New Mexico
Colorado New York
Connecticut North Carolina
Delaware Ohio
Georgia Oklahoma
Illinois Oregon
Iowa Shared Visions Pennsylvania EABG
Iowa SVPP Pennsylvania HSSAP
Kansas At-Risk Pennsylvania K4 & SBPK
Kentucky Rhode Island
Louisiana 8(g) South Carolina CDEPP
Louisiana LA4 Tennessee
Louisiana NSECD Texas
Maine Virginia
Maryland Washington
Michigan West Virginia
Minnesota Wisconsin Head Start
Missouri D.C. PEEP
New Jersey Abbott D.C. Charter

Still, there are 11 states without state-funded pre-K, and children in those states may be missing out on disease-preventing immunizations until they reach kindergarten or even first grade. The same is true for children who are shut out of state-funded pre-K due to the limited access to programs in many states. A rise in the spread of measles in 2011 indicates that there’s still more work to be done to protect all of our citizens, especially for those traveling internationally where vaccination rates are lower.

As immunizations increase across the globe, more and more children are being offered the chance to grow up healthy. This, in turn, improves their health, happiness, and ability to learn and succeed in school and later in life.

- Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER


Early Education on the International Scene

January 27, 2012

Continuing its focus on the importance of early childhood education, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) held its high-level roundtable “Starting Strong: Implementing Policies for High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)” in Oslo, Norway this week. The OECD, a collaborative organization with 34 member nations, provides a forum for governments to share best practices and address common problems in a variety of areas.

Recognizing the impact of high-quality early learning, the OECD has had a special initiative focusing on early childhood and early care (ECEC) since 1996. Their “Starting Strong” initiative has collected data on policies, practices, and success across countries. The roundtable meeting, along with the release of a new publication, “Starting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care,” continued this legacy of international cooperation as nations try to protect crucial early learning investments during difficult financial times.

The roundtable featured invited guests from government, research, and advocacy throughout its member countries to focus on its three goals:

  • Focus attention on the economic and social importance of investing in high-quality early childhood education and care,
  • Highlight key policies and practices that can enhance investment in high-quality early childhood education and care in countries, and
  • Share perspectives and foster dialogue with, and among, stakeholders to promote understanding of the implementation challenges and how to address them.

Steve Barnett, director of NIEER, was a keynote speaker at the roundtable meeting and participated in a panel with other crucial ECEC stakeholders in the international community. Video footage can be found online, with Dr. Barnett’s address beginning at the 25:30 mark, and continuing into the panel at the 57-minute mark. The slides from his Oslo Benefits and Costs of ECEC presentation are available both from NIEER and on the OECD website alongside the video footage.

Norwegian Minister of Education Kristin Halvorsen gave a particularly striking speech (beginning at the 10-minute mark) in which she walked participants through the process of achieving high-quality early childhood education and care programs in Norway. Her argument was rooted in her experience as former Minister of Finance; that is, early childhood education is beneficial not only for the individual child but also for families that are better able to work and the economy that benefits from this. Her presentation slides are also available alongside the video footage of the event.

The complete Starting Strong III report is a 300-plus page tome addressing five policy levers utilized cross-nationally to improve quality in ECEC programs and ensure this crucial investment pays off. An interactive site guides stakeholders through these five levers, and well as the five “action areas” laid out below—this site is an incomparable tool for policymakers both stateside and in the international community.

Policy Levers

Setting out quality goals and regulations
Designing and implementing curriculum and standards
Improving workforce conditions, qualifications and training
Engaging families and communities
Setting out quality goals and regulations

Action Areas

Using research to inform policy and the public
Broadening perspectives through international comparison
Selecting a strategy option
Managing risks: Learning from other countries’ policy experiences
Reflecting on the current state of play

Steve Barnett and Ellen Frede (former co-director of NIEER) contributed to this report and its online materials, and NIEER’s research can be seen in a number of areas through the publication. Research briefs around each policy lever topic address the current body of knowledge on the topic, what is still unknown, and what the policy implications are in the field. NIEER’s contributions can particularly be seen in this brief on data monitoring and accountability.

The OECD hosts a plethora of material on ECEC in member nations. Much of NIEER’s research centers on early education funded by states, which reflect great diversity in resources, access, and quality. These differences are only magnified at the international level, offering a number of ideas that nations may wish to incorporate into their own programs. There is no one “right” model for early care and education; programs must be of high-quality, fit the needs of their community while being culturally responsive, and contribute to lasting gains. Cooperative efforts such as those launched by the OECD provide a crucial opportunity to share knowledge and ensure that all children are provided with quality early learning opportunities, contributing to an improved global economy.

-  Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


A Life Devoted to Healthy Development for All: J. Fraser Mustard

November 28, 2011

The Toronto Star recently reported the sad news that Canadian physician and researcher Dr. James Fraser Mustard died in his home at age 84. In addition to being a part of the research team that discovered aspirin could help reduce the likelihood of heart disease, Dr. Mustard studied early childhood development with his research influencing his home province’s education policy. His Early Years Study was used by the Ministry of Education in Ontario when it established a program to offer full-day kindergarten throughout the province. His broader body of work influenced early childhood policy around the globe.

Dr. Mustard was a strong global disseminator of the science base for public investments in early childhood development.  He was expert in tying together diverse research from medicine, neuroscience, and social science so as to make clear to virtually any audience the connections and implications. Dr. Mustard had a keen understanding of the impacts of early brain development on later outcomes including adult health.  He also understood the importance of showing policymakers and the public that the relationship between socio-economic background and human development is a gradient—a smooth continuous slope—and that the level and steepness of these slopes varies considerably across nations depending on their public policies.  As he wrote in 2010:

“Results from developmental neurobiology studies and animal and human studies provide strong evidence that early neurobiological development affects health (physical and mental), behaviour and learning in the later stages of life. Countries that provide quality universal early development programs for families with young children tend to out-perform countries in which the early development programs are chaotic.”

Mustard was born in Toronto, Ontario and attended the University of Toronto. He later conducted postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge before returning to the University of Toronto as a research associate. He was also involved with the National Heart Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Heart Foundation, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, amongst others. Dr. Mustard was a founding member of both the McMaster Medical School and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a multidisciplinary nonprofit that has conducted research on topics such as economic growth and policy, experience-based brain and biological development,  human-environment interactions, human development, population health, and successful societies.

Beginning in the 1980s, Dr. Mustard became more involved with research on early childhood development and learning. He became the head of the Founders’ Network, a group dedicated to studying economic and social impacts on health and human development, with an emphasis on early childhood. Dr. Mustard’s research work produced the 1999 report on the Early Years Study commissioned by the government of Ontario and follow-up reports in 2002 and 2007. Collectively, the reports criticized Canada’s commitment to preschool learning and called for national early childhood development initiatives on par with K-12 education as a means to promote lifelong healthy outcomes. In 2004, Dr. Mustard co-founded the Council for Early Childhood Development, an organization whose goals include promoting the message of the Early Years Study and further studying early childhood development.

We are heartened that Dr. Mustard’s work proceeds on. Less than a week after his death, a third report based on the Early Years Study was published, recommending that children as young as 2 years old should have access to voluntary prekindergarten education. And, the full-day kindergarten initiative in Ontario continues to roll out, with final implementation slated for September 2014.

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER

- Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER


Celebrating Children’s Rights

November 18, 2011

© Jen Fitzgerald

Since 1954, the United Nations (UN) has observed November 20 as “Universal Children’s Day,” a day to honor children and promote activities for their welfare. On this day in 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted their Declaration of the Rights of the Child. On this date in 1989, these rights became legally binding to all UN member countries that ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which at present includes all member countries except Somalia and the United States. However, not all countries act equally on the goals of the Convention—many signatories are not taking proactive steps, while the United States, who has not signed, may even be doing more on some fronts.

The basic premise of the Convention is that all children are born with fundamental freedoms and inherent rights, and the principles held within it further UN goals of protecting children’s rights, including expanding opportunities to advance children’s potential as well as meeting their basic needs. Like human rights in general, children’s rights are based on respect for each individual’s dignity and incorporate civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. Article 28 of the Convention outlines very specific goals for children’s educational opportunities:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.

3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Even without having ratified the Convention, the U.S. has long had free and compulsory education for children from first grade through high school. However, we at NIEER feel that our country is missing a golden opportunity but not providing more free – although voluntary – educational services when children are younger. Full-day kindergarten programs are far from the norm throughout the country, and access to freely available prekindergarten is limited rather than universal and varies greatly from state to state. Preschool education programs can further many of the goals in Article 28, including the reduction of drop-out rates, combating chronic absenteeism, and the elimination of illiteracy. Studies have found that preschool education programs have long-term outcomes and far-reaching benefits beyond school success, including financial stability, reducing crime, preparing U.S. military forces, and better health, all of which are in line with the UN’s vision for both children and adults.

Though publicly-funded pre-K remains the domain of state governments in the U.S., early education is gaining traction as an issue of international importance. As a recent OECD report noted the decrease in well-qualified workers globally, NIEER’s Steve Barnett responded that “far too many of our children enter kindergarten so far behind that higher education will not be within their reach, despite the best efforts of our schools to prepare them.” Recognizing the lifelong impact of early childhood education, developing nations are offering such programs, including Colombia (where NIEER is conducting a study). Early childhood education stands as one of the most effective interventions in facing the modern challenges of a global economy, a fact recognized by campaigns from both the OECD and the UN. A strong research base has demonstrated that providing access to preschool is beneficial to the society as a whole and furthers children’s rights not just in education but in other areas as well. Indeed, it can contribute to the Convention’s goals of “the full and harmonious development of [a child’s] personality” and allow a “child [to] be fully prepared to live an individual life in society.” The UN must continue to provide specific goals and technical assistance as countries work towards their vision of respecting and promoting the rights of all children.

- Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


OECD Report Sounds a Warning: Early Education Needed Now More Than Ever

November 1, 2011

One critical lesson we can draw from this recession is that demand for knowledge workers is increasing at a furious rate — so fast that many skilled people who found themselves out of work when the recession began now find themselves behind the curve knowledge wise as they apply for new jobs. As old jobs have gone by the wayside, the new ones, scarce as they are, are requiring more skills of applicants.

The growing importance of education in the labor market is underscored in a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Data from across OECD’s member nations shows that unemployment rates among university graduates stood at an average 4.4 percent in 2009, a year after the recession began. People who left school without qualifications experienced an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent in 2009, up from 8.7 percent the year before. These figures are likely different now (and not for the better), but the disparity between the educated and relatively uneducated remains, without a doubt, valid.

OECD calculated employment levels for citizens in three education categories: 1) Below upper secondary, 2) Upper secondary and post-secondary (but not tertiary) and 3) Tertiary educations. Those categories roughly account for 1) High school dropouts, 2) High school graduates with some secondary schooling, and 3) College graduates. What they found was that in 2009 for OECD member countries as a whole, 56 percent of category 1 was employed, 74 percent of category 2 was employed and 84 percent of category 3 was employed. The U.S. workforce placed below these levels at 52, 69 and 81 percent employed respectively. (Note: Because of the way the numbers are compiled it is not valid to infer unemployment levels from these employment data.)

The report also shows how the global talent pool is changing: Japan and the United States have nearly half of all tertiary-educated adults in the OECD area (47 percent). But that lead is slipping. While it’s true that one in three university-educated retirees resides in the U.S., it is also true that only one in five university graduates entering the workforce does.

Contrast this picture with China where only 5 percent of adults have a tertiary degree. Because of its population size, however, China now ranks second behind the U.S. and ahead of Japan in population with tertiary attainment.

Why are these figures important? Because, says the report, the earnings premium (net present value over a lifetime) for an individual with a tertiary degree exceeds $300,000 for men and $200,000 for women across the 34 OECD countries.

With trends like these and the apparent absence of political will to boost investment in education, it is little wonder that OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria talks about the developed countries producing a “lost generation” of citizens who will be ill-equipped to make their way in the ever more competitive world.

So why am I focusing on higher education in a blog on preschool education?  Because far too many of our children enter kindergarten so far behind that higher education will not be within their reach, despite the best efforts of our schools to prepare them.  If the United States is to increase the percentage of our population with education beyond high school, we will have to do a much better job educating children in the first five years.  The current recession only makes that more difficult, of course, but the choices we make now at local, state, and national levels will determine whether the United States will have–as Thomas Friedman has argued–“a hard decade or a bad century.”

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


Words around the World: Celebrating International Literacy Day

September 8, 2011

Since 1967, September 8 has been celebrated as International Literacy Day, with the goal of focusing attention on the need to improve literacy worldwide. As students, parents, and teachers settle into their back to school routines, it is worth looking at the status of literacy both at home and around the world.

NIEER Director Steve Barnett and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan read to preschoolers at the State of Preschool 2008 release.

According to the fact sheets from the International Reading Association, an estimated 860 million of the world’s adults do not know how to read or write—more than twice the entire United States population.  More than 100 million children globally lack access to education.  Illiteracy plays a role in a damaging cycle of poverty, poor health, and a lack of mobility.  In countries with a literacy rate below 55 percent, the average per capita income is $600.  Geography plays a huge role in this cycle: 98 percent of non-literates live in a developing country. About 52 percent of non-literates live in India and China, and the continent of Africa has a literacy rate of under 60 percent.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNSECO) also provides compelling information on the extent of this problem globally.

Either out of naiveté or a desire to believe the problem hasn’t reached our shores, it is easy to think of illiteracy as a problem “over there.”  In reality, though, Americans whose literacy skills are never fully developed lag behind fully literate peers in a number of ways.  Research from ProLiteracy Worldwide finds that one half of all adults in federal and state correctional institutions in America cannot read or write at all, and reading problems are seen in 85 percent of juvenile offenders.  Health costs for individuals with low literacy skills are four times higher than those with individuals with high level literacy skills. Students with poor literacy skills may struggle in a number of subjects and some will eventually drop out before high school completion, a grim outcome when the income gap between those with a bachelor’s degree and those without is ever growing.

Starting children early on the road to literacy is an important step in helping develop these skills.  Recognizing this importance, NIEER has several recommended resources on developing early literacy skills in the early years, including:

For the literate, we cannot remember what it was like before letters automatically formed into words and words into sentences. We cannot turn off our ability to read and cannot imagine being unable to read our homework, a grocery list, or even street signs. For millions, though, this is their reality. Ensuring high levels of literacy attainment, beginning with the earliest years, both at home and abroad pays dividends in promoting educational attainment and creating a more capable workforce.  Improving literacy rates is a massive goal which requires more than one day of activism, but today is be a good time to start. And what better place to start than with early interventions?

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


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