Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Include early education in the debate

Beth Oppenheimer Photograph

The current debate over Idaho education reform has covered a variety of topics considered essential for quality education, except early childhood education. This topic has the potential to give every child equal footing when they start school, improve third-grade reading scores, increase graduation rates, and reduce public spending on grade repetition and special education.

Early education is the formal teaching and care of young children by individuals or professionals other than their family in settings such as child care programs, preschools and daycare facilities. The early years are a time of remarkable brain growth in children and lay the foundation for subsequent learning and development.

The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC) supports the inclusion of early education as a necessary piece in Idaho’s current education debate. In order to achieve the goals that we all share for our children and communities, we must be willing to recognize and discuss the vital role that early childhood education plays in successful outcomes from our education system.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of brain development occurs before a child is five years old. What happens in those years significantly influences that child’s lifetime attainments. Early exposure to chronic stress, abuse, or neglect can harm development, whereas appropriate learning environments and quality care influence social, emotional, and intellectual development that strengthen the networks of a child’s brain. They promote future learning, behavior, and health. Early education could not be more important in the recent debate–not just for keeping our children healthy and safe, but also for effectively preparing them to enter school and succeed in life.

According to a recent IdahoKIDS Count report, 44 percent of Idaho’s children are not academically prepared to enter kindergarten and 37 percent are not academically ready to enter first grade. The gaps that are present as children enter schools will only become more severe with time if we do not provide programs to create equal learning opportunities for all children. Early education serves as an essential tool to balance the developmental and educational playing field so that all children, regardless of their backgrounds, enter school healthy, safe and ready to learn.

Debate must shift and consider the benefits of quality early learning programs as vital components of education reform. Working together to ensure that young children are prepared to smoothly transition into kindergarten or first grade will drastically reduce many challenges we currently face in our K-12 education system. Early prevention is better and less expensive than later remediation.

Upfront investments in quality care and early education translate into direct returns for our communities, the state, and society as a whole. Additionally, early childhood education is most beneficial if accompanied by continuous and sustained learning. Reform that incorporates early learning is about making a long-term, not short-term, investment. It is about looking at our current education system from a holistic perspective to find the places where we can improve so Idaho’s children enter our educational institutions ready to learn and exit our schools ready to conquer their dreams and ambitions.

Idaho’s recent education reform proposed methods intended to create an advanced educational environment with an emphasis on technology. By incorporating early education into the reform discourse, we will finally place Idaho’s educational system at the forefront of innovative education policy. By recognizing the powerful impact quality learning experiences and environments have on young children, we will prepare children for learning long before they step through the school doors on their first day of class.

To learn more, please visit Idahoaeyc.org.

Beth Oppenheimer

Beth Oppenheimer

Beth Oppenheimer, a 2023 IBR Power List: Most Influential awardee and a 2022 IBR Women of the Year awardee, has been the Executive Director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC) since 2010. She has spent many years advocating for the needs of our children and families and is committed to advancing opportunities for all Idaho families.

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