Oregon's early learning plan provides excellent insights and inspiration for policymakers who seek to make impact in their own local communities or states.

How Communities, States Can Learn From Oregon’s Early Learning Plan

Yesterday we highlighted Raise Up Oregon: A Statewide Early Learning System Plan, which notes a central point: notes: “Brain science makes clear that the first 2,000 days of a child’s life – the time between birth and kindergarten entry – represent the most consequential period in human development. From birth to age three, a child’s brain makes one million new neural connections every second.”

But a deeper look at the report provides excellent insights and inspiration for policymakers who seek to make impact in their own local communities or states.

The Executive Summary states: “Oregon is home to over 275,000 children, birth to kindergarten entry. Our state has an opportunity to change how it supports these children and their families and, in doing so, put itself on the path to an even brighter future. Overwhelming evidence tells us that investing in young children and their families has a lasting, positive impact across their lifetime. Raise Up Oregon: A Statewide Early Learning System Plan is grounded in the science of child development, equity, and the firm understanding that it takes leaders from early care and education, K-12, health, housing, and human services—together with families, communities, and the public and private sectors—to work together during this critical period of children’s lives.”

As Oregon Governor Kate Brown said: “Too many young children and their families in Oregon struggle to access and afford housing, child care, and preschool. This plan contains bold, actionable strategies that will help us better support them so that all Oregon children can reach their full potential.”

Key Lessons for Other Communities to Learn

Key lessons from the report can be broken out as follows:

The science of child development underscores the importance of the first 2,000 days of childhood. “From birth to age three, a child’s brain makes one million new neural connections every second, reaching 80% of its adult size by age three, and 90% by age five. The tremendous opportunity presented in these early years for rapid and healthy growth must be met by Oregon’s use of the best available research and evidence to drive its early childhood system.”

Invest early to get the best return on public investment. “A recent review by RAND Corporation scientists of early childhood program evaluations showed that nearly 90% of programs had a positive effect on at least one child outcome, such as behavior and emotion, cognitive achievement, and adult outcomes. The review revealed that among programs with an economic evaluation, the typical return is $2 to $4 for every dollar invested, yet less than 10% of Oregon’s combined federal and state investment in children’s education occurs before age five.”

Racial, geographic, and economic disparities emerge early. “Income, race, and zip code are powerful predictors of whether children and their families experience the conditions that are optimal for young children’s development. Nearly 50,000 young children in Oregon—or two in 10—live in deep poverty. More than one in five children in rural Oregon live in poverty, and children of color are disproportionately represented among young children in poverty. Breaking the link between these factors and life outcomes can only happen if we change the circumstances of families by changing the distribution of opportunities in those years.”

Communities, families, early care and education, K-12, health, housing, and human services all had a voice in creating Raise Up Oregon. “The Early Learning Council spent a year working with cross-agency partners— Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Housing and Community Services, as well as the state’s Early Learning Division—and hearing from communities, partners, parents, and providers in the areas of early care and education, K-12, health, housing, and human services.”

What are the goals and values framing Raise Up Oregon? “The Council framed Raise Up Oregon based on its three core goals, the involvement of all sectors needed to drive positive change for Oregon’s youngest children and families, and five core values: 1) Embed equity throughout; 2) Represent all sectors within the early learning system that support children prenatal through kindergarten entry and their families; 3) Provide comprehensive objectives and strategies that meet the needs of Oregon’s young children and families; 4) Address the whole child, nested in family and nested in community; and 5) Focus on outcomes that support Oregon’s young children and families.”

Vision + Action = Results for Oregon’s youngest children and families. “Zip code, race, and income should not predict the health, educational, and life outcomes of Oregon’s children. The purpose of the five-year Raise Up Oregon: A Statewide Early Learning System Plan 2019-2023 is to share a vision of where we as a state intend to go and to identify actionable, concrete strategies for working together across traditional boundaries to get there. Raise Up Oregon represents our best thinking about how Oregon can most strategically and positively impact families throughout the state and generate results from 2019 through 2023.”

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