College- and Career-Readiness—Preschool is Important

Ask Bruce Atchison, director of the Early Childhood Institute at the Education Commission of the States, if college- and career-readiness begins in preschool and he answers with a resounding yes.

Executive function and self-regulation—the ability to hold onto and work with information—are key components of workforce readiness, Atchison said.

“Within the executive function and self-regulatory component, it’s working memory, mental flexibility and self-control,” he said at Sunday’s session on college- and career-readiness. “The biggest spike in executive function in brain development is between ages of 3 and 6.”

That’s why preschool years matter. Children exposed to good quality preschool, he said, do better in school and have a better opportunity to do well in the world of work.

Early childhood education is in the spotlight, and Atchison said states can make changes that will improve opportunities for young learners. But, he said, it must be done right.

“It’s incremental work,” he said. “None of you are going to fix this in your terms as state legislators. Quality pre-k and K-3 is an investment in our workforce and in our future.”

Those investments must span the programs that provide services to young children and their families, said Renée Wilson-Simmons, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty.

She said 22 percent of the 74 million in America live in poverty. They don’t have the same opportunities as the children from families that do not live in poverty, she said.

“We know children do better when families do better,” she said. “We know the association between low incomes of families and achievement of children is very much linked. We know that poverty has an effect on children’s cognitive development and ability to learn.”

Laura Speer, associate director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said poverty creates hurdles for young children.

“Living in a community where poverty rates are low is important,” she said.  “In high poverty communities, resources tend to be less than in higher income communities.”