Because we can’t take our Early Learning Nation Studio on the road during this time, stay tuned as ELN recaps Top Takeaways from important conversations, panels, town halls and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Read them all andjoin the conversation! And visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.
1. The Roadmap is a veritable cornucopia. It’s a substantial document, over 300 pages, but don’t worry, it’s not intended to be read from beginning to end. Users—primarily, state leaders who are prioritizing babies and toddlers—may want to focus on one state or one issue, depending on their priorities. Policy recommendations are just the beginning. Note: the Impact Center will track progress toward goals, including which measures are adopted and how they are implemented.
2. States can learn from each other. The report finds that California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have demonstrated the most progress on early childhood issues. In Osborne’s words, “All states can do more, but some really need to get started.”
3. In order to be effective, policies must be equitable (and vice versa). “For a significant part of the population,” explained Jack Shonkoff, director, The Center for the Developing Child and professor, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “There is a level of adversity, much of it related to structural inequities associated with poverty, systemic racism and exposure to violence, that appear to overwhelm the ability of the building blocks of school readiness to prepare all children to be ready to succeed, that result in disruptions in whole child development.”
In many cases, the structural and systemic issues manifest in policies that exclude those that need support the most. “This belief that some should have and some shouldn’t has really caused us all to not be able to thrive,” Dr. Joia Crear-Perry of the National Birth Equity Collaborative asserted, “It is racism, not race, that is the root cause of health inequities.”
To make things equitable, Shonkoff posited, we can no longer be asking questions like: What is the most effective intervention for children living in poverty? What is the most effective policy for dealing with the consequences and the threats and the hardships of systemic racism? The questions have to be: What works for whom? What has bigger impacts for some part of the population, what works less well for others? “Science is telling us that we have to get away from asking about what on average works and understand differential evidence.”
4. Early investments lead to greater return on investment. Science-informed investments that reduce hardships and adverse exposures faced by pregnant women and families with very young children offer a promising pathway to enormous savings in health care costs.
“The science is screaming at us!” — Jack Shonkoff, director, The Center for the Developing Child; professor, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; professor, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital; Research staff member, Massachusetts General Hospital
“Policies in the prenatal period and the first two to three years after birth that strengthen the conditions that support healthy development will generate a substantially larger return on investment than what we have been used to looking at in early childhood,” Shonkoff explained. “Three of the five most costly adult diseases are associated with early life adversity.” A focus on health care and not just school readiness will benefit children, family and society in the long term.
5. Science is driving policy. “The science is screaming at us,” insisted Shonkoff during his remarks. He provided a crash-course on the biology of adversity and resilience, which helps to explain how excessive stress undermines the foundations of healthy development.
“We are learning a lot about what it is about adversity in the lives of families with young children that gets into the body and affects early learning and the beginning, the foundations of lifelong physical and mental health,” Shonkoff said.
This is not, nor should it be, a partisan issue. Tony Vargas (a Democratic state senator in Nebraska) and Terri Collins (a Republican member of the Alabama house of representatives) both emphasized the importance of advancing science-informed policies.
Dr. Osborne concluded the program with the exhortation: “Embrace the science of the developing child!”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.