Teaching kids early lighter on the wallet
Jul. 8, 2007
Saturday morning in New York City.
Editorial writers from across the country were listening to speakers at Columbia
University's Teachers College talk about early-childhood education.
There were PowerPoint presentations and thoughtful talks by professors and
policy experts. Coffee was available for those who had ventured out the night
before to see if this really was a city that never sleeps. Then, Daniel Rose,
the human equivalent of a triple espresso, took the podium.
Chairman of Rose Associates Inc., a New York-based real estate firm, and former
director of the U.S. Trust Corp., he is a no-nonsense kind of guy.
He shouted. He gestured. He told the writers in that room exactly what this is
all about: Public investment in high-quality early-childhood education does not
"It pays," he said. "Put that in your newspapers."
Here was a businessman making a fiscal argument for what the social scientists
had been describing in human terms.
This wasn't touchy-feely. This was return on investment.
This wasn't a careful explanation of how impoverished children in Maryland's
Montgomery County went from underperforming to surpassing the 70th percentile in
math four years after the district began pumping $12,000 per student into
It wasn't an outline of what happened in Delaware, where 73 percent of children
who went through a comprehensive preschool program met the reading standard in
elementary school. Only 57 percent of those who had not been in the program
He didn't mention Rosita, a Delaware preschooler who did not speak and was
diagnosed as learning disabled until the program's medical screening found she
was suffering from gum disease. After treatment and speech therapy, she was
It wasn't about New Jersey, where a court order to increase funding in 33 poor
school districts resulted in programs where preschool teachers need degrees and
He didn't mention Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who launched a publicly funded
program for at-risk 4-year-olds that he plans to expand until it offers all
parents the option of putting their children in state-approved preschool classes
in public schools, private centers and church basements.
"I think what grown-ups do is make things a little better for the next
generation," the Democratic governor said.
Rose didn't dispute the moral arguments, but he said they are eclipsed by an
economic one. We don't need to do this because it's "good," we should do it
because it's smart.
He cited a research paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis that says
public investment in early-childhood programs should be "at the top" of
economic-development lists for state and local governments. Why? Because they
"yield extraordinary public returns."
Critics of Head Start like to say that educational advantages gained by children
in these programs can fade in elementary school. But there are other benefits.
Researchers tracked adults who had gone through high-quality early-education
programs decades ago. The preschool grads were less likely to wind up in
special-education programs, less likely to become teen parents, less likely to
be incarcerated, more likely to graduate from high school. They also earned more
Those preschool programs were better than Head Start and nothing at all like the
kind of child care that is reality for most parents of small children.
The early-childhood educators at the Hechinger Institute and National Conference
of Editorial Writers seminar told us about a few impressive but elite programs.
Most parents don't have access to publicly funded preschool, but they need a
place for their children to spend long days. All they can afford is what is
offered by minimally trained, poorly paid workers whose high turnover rate
leaves young children reeling from the instability of it all.
That represents a huge, wasted opportunity.
This isn't the fault of greedy child-care providers. They can't do much more
unless they price middle-class parents out of the market.
The marketplace hasn't met this need because it can't.
Yet high-quality programs pay dividends for decades.
For professors, this might be a dilemma to discuss.
For Rose, a successful businessman, it's an investment opportunity the public
sector should not pass up.
High-quality early-childhood programs are easier than remediation and cheaper
than prison. Kids who succeed grow up to pay more taxes.
"Put that in your newspaper!" Rose shouted.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her blog at