Hawaii 2011 - Education
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Billie Takaki Lueder, a business consultant and a former Miss Hawaii,
Early leaning pays off
Just 7.3 percent of the state’s public kindergarten classrooms had a majority of their students fully engaged and ready to learn on the first day of school, according to the 2010-2011 Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment.
It had nothing to do with the quality of their minds - and everything to do with their preparation. This year, only 59 percent of the children in public kindergarten attended preschool, a discouraging statistic for early education advocates. This rate has dropped two years in a row, and it means that over 9,000 kindergarten students did not attend preschool.
“One study found that investing in quality early education for at-risk children significantly increased areas such as education levels, home ownership and salary while reducing negative behaviors, including substance abuse and crime,” says Liz Chun, executive director of Good Beginnings Alliance, a non-profit advocacy group for early childhood learning.
“Before age five, about 85 percent of brain growth occurs and the foundations of thinking, aptitude and language are built,” says Chun. “The earliest years for keiki – prenatal through age 8 – are the most critical development period.”
The State Legislature has repeatedly supported early learning with a series of actions over the last decade aimed at putting in place a universal early learning system, but, so far, the cost has kept it from happening. When the Early Learning Educational Task Force studied the idea three years ago, their proposed 10-year plan came with an annual price-tag of $145 million, or $11,600 per child.
And with birthrates rising, (Census Bureau estimates in July 2009 show 16,758 four-year-olds and 17,174 three-year-olds in the state), costs are only going to keep increasing too. Yet advocates say the state has no choice but to move in this direction. “Since children learn to read from pre-kindergarten to third grade, and read to learn from fourth grade on up,” says Chun, “we must invest in early childhood programs for the sake of our children, our future workforce, and our economic sustainability.”
Despite support from legislative leaders and buy-in from the business community about the importance of early learning for the state’s future workforce, Good Beginnings Alliance has watched financial support erode. State subsidies have declined for low-income families to send their children to preschools.
At the same time, preschool enrollment is dropping – especially in low-income areas – and the number of children entering kindergarten qualifying for free or reduced lunch is increasing.
“With cuts in subsidies, families are turning to relatives, for free or less expensive child care,” said Chun, “instead of enrolling their children in quality early education programs.”
Those losses are costing us in test scores. While the latest results of standardized annual testing of grades 3 through 8 and 10 show increases in scores from a year ago, huge numbers of students still aren’t proficient in basic reading and math. Overall results showed 33 percent not proficient in reading and 51 percent not proficient in math. Even public charter schools, a positive alternative for many families, aren’t providing the testing results advocates expected.
According to Chun, pouring resources into early learning could make the crucial difference going forward.
“The earlier a child is exposed to a literacy-rich environment, the greater the likelihood the child will develop the necessary pre-literacy skills to succeed in school.”
Payoffs in the future
Research has shown that quality early education increases high school graduation rates, reduces K-12 grade repetition, reduces the number of children in special education, reduces crime and delinquency, lowers teen pregnancy rates, leads to greater employment and higher wages as adults, and contributes to more stable families.
One edge for our kids
Hawaii’s children enjoy a huge benefit by sharing the same classrooms with children of many different cultures and races. In fact, the state’s cosmopolitan heritage persuaded billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, to return here to raise his children.
Hawaii’s ethnic mix represents “a vision of the future. It’s the kind of environment we want our kids to grow up in,” he told business leaders at the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii Business Top 250 luncheon. “… To respect people different from them. …This is a model of how the world ought to work.”
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