People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

How Much Do Early Years Lead to Student Success?

CJ Westerberg, November 3, 2013 4:10 PM

early education.preschool.jpg

Editor's Note:  In October 2010, Town Hall Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation presented an Early Education presentation with highly involved and knowledgeable panelists in this arena from the private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors.  Due to space considerations, we excerpted from the complete transcript (link below) and indicated such with  . . . . punctuation and added bold emphasis, as well.  Our excerpts were selected to provide take-aways yet we highly recommend reading transcript in its entirety to gain further insight into early education (ages 0-5), the impact of parental involvement, access and quality of early childhood programs and the growing collaboration among business, philanthropy and non-profits to address the achievement gap which begins before Kindergarten.   We thank Town Hall Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation for this fascinating and important conversation. 
                                                                          - C.J. Westerberg

  Does Investing in the Early Years Lead to Students' Success?

"The idea being that wasn't necessarily to create little engineers everywhere, though that would be great for us.
The idea was to take advantage of the natural learning process
and curiosity
that children have at that age . . ."  
Tamika Lang, Boeing 

Panelists included Richard S. Atlas, Co-founder and Trustee, The Atlas Foundation; 
Dr. Celia C. Ayala, CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool; 
Maria A. Casillas, President, Families in Schools;  
Tamika M. Lang, Ca. Comm. Investor, Global Corporate Citizenship, The Boeing Company;  
Gail L. Zellman, PhD, Senior Research Psychologist & Practicing Clinical Psychologist, RAND
Moderator:  Molly Munger, Co-founder & Director of the Advancement Project


Antonia Hernandez:    . . . And today, we're bringing together people from the business community, the nonprofit community, and from the philanthropic community to talk about a very important issue, and specifically to LA County and to California, and that is early childhood education. As you know, research indicates that the most critical years of an individual are zero to five. And in order to succeed, these children have to have a strong foundation from which to grow and develop. From an economic perspective, we all know that it pays to educate . . .

Munger:   And to us at the Advancement Project, this is a civil rights issue. It's about equity and it's about inclusion. . .

 . . . In addition to the access gap, we have a quality gap, because in addition to children who get nothing, we have a whole bunch of children who have early learning programs - not really. They count as enrolled in an early childhood program, but these programs aren't even called early learning or preschool, they're called child care. And child care has been created to be a place where the standard is, if you come back from work and your child is still breathing at the end of the day, that's success. . . .

"But too often, if you go into kindergarten classrooms, they are
absolutely quiet. And parents report that the teacher says
everything is fine.
And kids by fifth grade are already on a pathway to drop out of school."
Maria Casillas, Families in Schools 

Ayala: Thank you very much, and I'll be brief because my timekeeper's right here, but a couple of things that Molly alluded to. How many of you went to kindergarten? How many of you went to preschool? How many of you have gone to public schools most of your life? How many of you have been in private schools most of your life?

See, there's a myriad of choice and opportunity. And we know that public schools work, and we know private schools work, but it is about a system putting an infrastructure in place. And today, focusing on early care and education and on the education part - because we all know, and those of us who have children - we know that we are our child's first and most important teachers, and we will always be their advocates, no matter how old, 20, 30, whatever old.  But that foundation, zero to five is so critical in terms of the brain development, in terms of the self-esteem, in terms of knowing that when you walk and you can go into any kindergarten - and I challenge you to do that in the next month or so - and watch how children walk. Watch how children express themselves, watch what they do when they're confident. It's so important, to go back to what Molly said. It's not only that I was a kindergarten teacher 34 years ago and I knew which children had and had not had the opportunity, but it is as important or even more important that the child knows. They're not confident, they're in the corner, they're not playing, they're not sharing, they're not the ones at the front of the room taking a leadership role.

For the business community to take an interest in all of the children that ultimately will become your workforce and that ultimately will become the ones that contribute to my retirement, I'm very concerned with that. And so the issue about investing in our communities and having that workforce be all of our interest, all of our issue, all of our concern, is very important and very timely. We need to focus on looking at programs that - it's not access but it's quality, and that ultimately provide the outcome that you want, a good, successful workforce, because ultimately, they make up our society. . .

Munger: Maria?

Casillas: Well, I'm going to follow up a little bit with the notion that a parent is the child's first teacher. Parents are also the most consistent teacher that a child will have over time. So for us, it's very important at Families and Schools to always look at families as partners in the education of their children. And it is really too late to begin this partnership role when kids enter kindergarten. We're trying at the same time that we're hoping to build the knowledge of the parents to cope and navigate this big bureaucratic system that the public education system is about, and in particular for low-income and language minority students and their families; this is a very harsh and unknown place to be. So, we have developed programs that help parents gain the knowledge that they need while their children are in the cradle and preparing for kindergarten.

Our programs aim to do two things: empower them with knowledge about child development, literacy, health care, all the things that middle-class America already knows and practices. We try to do that in all of our programs zero to five, and then we try to empower parents with the support they need to become their children's strongest advocates throughout life. One of our programs in particular, called Abriendo Puertas - Opening Doors - is both meant for children and their parents. It opens the doors in a very culturally relevant and powerful way to a transformation of low-income families, immigrant families who we know have much more pain in their lives because their children experience more failure than most other groups in America. So, we target that population through our program to ensure that parents become empowered as their child's first and most consistent teacher throughout their lives.

Munger: Tamika?

Lang: Thank you. Why is this important to business? Just a little bit of background on the Boeing company. We are a global leader. For example, we're the No. 1 producer of military and commercial aircraft, No. 1 producer of commercial and military satellite, a key systems integrator. We are a global company. We have over 150,000 employees in 49 states of the US, as well as 70 countries. In addition to being a global company, we are very, very reliant on the workforce that's right here in the United States, so this was a no-brainer for us.

We were founded in 1916, 1917 we made our first grant. It was in education. We know the importance of a well-prepared workforce and a vibrant community, and education is a part of that. We have invested in K-12 for many years. We've invested in higher ed for many years. But, we found that we weren't getting the best return on our investment by simply investing in those two systems. And we know that they are valuable; we'll continue to invest in those areas.

Seeing the recent research that has come out about those first five years of life, we knew that we had to take a more comprehensive approach in how we looked at education. So, we really look at it from a zero to retirement perspective. Looking at birth to five, those first five years of life, we know the importance of developing children socially, cognitively, as well as emotionally. And that is where we support parents, of course, as their children's first and most important teachers.  We've partnered with Families and Schools, with their Abriendo Puertas program, on helping parents realize the importance of those first five years. We also look at quality learning environments and access to quality learning environments. So, we've partnered for example with UCLA, and some of the important work that they're doing, even looking at STEM education in the early years, and taking advantage of students' natural curiosity.

And then finally, as a business leader, we know we don't have all of the dollars to make a difference, but we can use our voice in advocacy, so we're partnering with industry partners such as the National Manufacturing Association, the LA Chamber of Commerce, to really stress the importance of incorporating early education in any company's workforce development strategy, and making sure that the community is aware of the significance of those first five years. . . .

Atlas: Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. The Atlas Family Foundation - excuse me - was established with a philosophy to approach philanthropy as an investor. We don't look at it as charity, we don't look at it as giving money away. We look at it as investing money in the community, building human capital. So, I looked at, from my career at Goldman Sachs - which was spent dealing with investors, both wealthy individuals and institutional investors like banks, insurance companies, money managers, endowments, and that sort of thing - there were certain characteristics that investors who had been successful over a long period of time exhibited, one of which was that they were very, very focused. . .  .

And we decided we would approach philanthropy in the same way. We wanted to be focused on building human capital, we wanted to be long-term investors with the nonprofit agencies that we supported, and we wanted to have equal relationships with them of trust that worked both ways. We looked across the life spectrum to figure out where's the highest return on investment in creating human capital, building human capital, and it was very, very obvious it was the very beginning of life, meaning conception. Not preschool, not early care and education, but to ensure that women had good quality prenatal care so they had healthy births, so at birth that child was not behind the starting line, where that child would never catch up. And then, beginning and helping parents understand what children need, the kinds of experiences and the kinds of nourishing relationships they need, and the support systems to help them do that so that the children had a very, very healthy beginning to life.

Munger: Well, thank you. That's an interesting group of comments. I'm trying to weave it together somehow here. It sounds like from Celia and Gail, we need to have high quality, that's very important. We need to reach children that are being left out or left behind, parents are very important, we have to work with parents. It's a good investment. . .

Munger: Maria, how do you find the parents react to the availability of high quality early education programs in their communities?

Casillas: Well, with the right kind of welcome and engaging opportunities, parents are very eager to participate in their children's education. They suffer from two things. It is the access, and then they suffer from a very challenging phenomenon for all of us, and that is understanding what quality is, and what the expectations will be once their children enter the regular public school system, so that they can be prepared for high school completion, career, and university work. Parents don't know that when their children start school, so we have this huge challenge that if they really are going to partner, and if we're going to put all their assets to work on behalf of the child, we need to engage parents in very welcoming and attractive ways that pay off for them individually as a parent and for their families, but where they can make that connection between what I'm doing now will have long-term repercussions for my children. So, it's understanding that the long-term goal is college and careers, the world of work, not just come today, your child will have babysitting available, and then you can come and do knitting in the parents' center. While all those things may be fun, they are not helping our parents set those broad goals for the future where they need to not just have the appetite for learning but build habits that will get them there.

Munger: It sounds like one of the things you like about early learning programs is it gives you a chance to engage with the parents so early in the child's career, and then you can take advantage of that engagement when they go to the K-12 system. You've already got them in the habit of engaging with their children.

"Well, I'm going to follow up a little bit with the notion
that a parent is the child's first teacher.
Parents are also the most consistent teacher
that a child will have over time. . . ."

Casillas: Absolutely. . . . We've got to have that image of our children going to college from the moment they are born, because that's what most of you had when you had your children, and that's what we want for all children in our country.

Munger: Tamika, I loved what you said about the voice of business and Boeing, we so much appreciate in the early education movement what Boeing has done. Could you tell us a little bit about what you think the thought process - I think we know it's a good investment. Was there any sense of, there's lots of good causes, or this could have some risk for us? When you talk about a corporation lifting its voice in an advocacy way for young children, tell us a little bit more about the thought process that you go through there.

Lang: Absolutely. As a company, as I mentioned before, a big area for us is systems integration. When we thought about the best way for us in the future and now to invest in education, we knew that we had to take a systems approach. It was not enough to invest in one system and expect to get the results that we wanted. In K-12 for example, we invest highly in teacher professional development. What we were hearing a lot from our teachers, especially in early elementary and kindergarten, was when students come to our classrooms, all of the difficulty isn't necessarily in teaching them how to read, though that's a huge struggle, or teaching them math, that's a huge struggle. It's really, is this child able to sit in a circle and self-regulate? Is this child able to work in teams? Is this child able to socialize?

All of these things are huge in quality early education. So, we knew that as a company, this is an area where we needed to go. I talked a little bit about, for example, the investment that we made with a program introducing STEM concepts to children. The idea being that wasn't necessarily to create little engineers everywhere, though that would be great for us. The idea was to take advantage of the natural learning process and curiosity that children have at that age, number one, and number two, Maria talked a little bit about perception before, really perceptions of science and math. The worst thing you can do is give a negative perception to a child right at the beginning that you really don't have what it takes to succeed in these types of careers. If we could help the parents get more comfortable with those concepts and those careers, and the teachers to get more comfortable with those concepts and those careers, it'll make a huge difference in what our children are able to achieve.

preschool.hiding child.jpg

Munger: Thank you. Gail, as a researcher in this area, could you tell us a little bit about what it takes to - we've had a reference here to social/emotional development - how important that is to learning, and one of the big contributions that early childhood education makes is to having children confident and social and calm and self-regulating, and all of those things. You're a psychologist. What does the learning tell us about that social/emotional element of early childhood education, and how important it is?

Zellman: Well, I think as Tamika suggested, and certainly the research suggests, it is extremely important. One of the things that I think is very valuable later on is when kids are more cognitively advanced, they become efficacious. They believe that they can achieve what they set out to do, and in the case of children, of course, that's to be a competent learner. I think some of this goes on much earlier, although we can't really measure it, that children come to learn how - as you're saying, how to get along, how to live in the world, how to be curious and be reinforced for being curious. I think this is all very important, that some of these children don't get this at home, that parents are not available to spend the time or have the way of thinking that we would like them to have. Going to the grocery store can be a wonderful learning experience if a parent thinks of it in that way. But, if you're hurried and it's late and everybody's hungry, it may not be at all. And these are the sorts of things that I think good programs can do for both parents and children. That is, help them understand, as Maria was suggesting, this is a lifelong effort, that parents should be at some level thinking about this all the time. How can I take a boring task, the laundromat or the grocery store, and turn it into something that will make my child feel good about him or herself, understand the world in a better way? And these are the kinds of things that I think go on much more often in high quality programs where teachers in those programs have also been trained to think about their job in those ways, rather than just making sure diapers are clean and kids are fed, but that they have an ongoing, continuing obligation to try to help children develop and become avid learners.

Munger: It sounds like Maria, that one of the things you were saying here - and Celia, you can chime in on this too - that we get from early childhood investment - we not only get the direct benefit of a child who is more comfortable going to school, more confident, more able to start on equal footing, but there's this multiplier effect that the early engagement with the program is a great enricher of parent behavior as well, so that you're really helping parents be better parents as you're helping children become better and more confident students. That's what I'm hearing.

Casillas: Absolutely. And you know, our parents in our communities that are underserved are very young, and they don't know the public education system. So, the more we can help them understand and navigate it early, and at least have some kind of a sense that their children are going to be faced by these very real challenges, and helping them play together and work in teams and work in groups and speak to express themselves - not just be humble and quiet - even though those are very good traits. But too often, if you go into kindergarten classrooms, they are absolutely quiet. And parents report that the teacher says everything is fine. And kids by fifth grade are already on a pathway to drop out of school.

So, we need to really look at the investment that we make in the entire family. Not just the children, but the entire family, so that we build on the strengths they come with and prepare them and orient them better, with the capacity they will need to oversee their children's education for the long run.

Ayala: And in terms of the investment for the children, when children enter kindergarten ready, willing, and able to learn, they most likely will be reading at third grade proficiency level, and not behind. What happens is that the children that are not will be held back, and that's one more year you're paying for their school. Then potentially, you diagnose them special needs later on as opposed to early on. And having been a principal, I knew that when a child was referred for special education in the third grade and didn't get into the system until the fourth or fifth grade, there are already three or four years lagging behind, so we're paying more. Then those children that are already two or three years behind by the end of sixth grade, most likely they're dropping out of school. So now, you're going to be paying more in terms of society. So yes, the investment in a quality preschool, early education, zero to five - you do not want to miss that piece - is so much. You're going to get a five, at least, $17 to $1 investment if the children are in a quality educational system since early on. So yes, you pay a little now, or pay a lot more later.

Munger: Richard, you're a good businessman, and spoke about the compelling nature of the investment. And I know that's important to you. I also know that you have a wonderful, warm heart, and caring about the kids is big with you. But let's focus for a minute on investment . . . . What trends do you see among your business and philanthropic friends?

Atlas:  . . . . I want to show you a graph which I think will provide the context for my response to Molly's question. There's an economist at the University of Chicago, his name is James Heckman, and he's a Nobel Prize laureate who's spent his career focusing on community development initiatives. And Heckman originally began working on whether or not a company could relocate to an area, or bringing a sports team to an area, or tax abatement zones in a community as community development initiatives, and came to the conclusion that the highest return on investment in community development was investing in very, very young children, from - as I mentioned earlier - the very beginning of life.

The organization that Molly talked about is called the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment, and it was established as I became more knowledgeable as a philanthropist about the importance of public policy and the public sector.  . . . And it made no sense that if we're all investing in children, both the public and the private sector, that we're not talking and getting leverage from each other.  . . .

Munger: I think we've reached a point where we should probably open it up for questions from all of you.

 Audience Q&A . . .

Above Excerpts Reprinted by permission of TOWN HALL Los Angeles ©

October 2010
TOWN HALL Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation

Transcript link:
Early Ed.pdf


  • Sonja Luchini

    Here's how Maria Casillas really values parent participation:

  • What a great article concept that focus on the true aspects of education at an early age. This is such a great content that help individuals to gain great ideas about learning and its process of achieving good learning skills.

  • Inga Blaser

    I loved your article. Want more.

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