The Early Childhood Imperative
Last month I became a true believer in the importance of early childhood initiatives for America's economic future. I saw the light in Boston, sometime between dinner Thursday and lunch Friday at the National Business Leader Summit on Early Childhood Investment. This two-day meeting of more than 200 corporate, foundation and non-profit executives was organized by the Partnership for America's Economic Success - a project of the Pew Center on the States.
Maybe it happened during the opening keynote when Harvard's Jack Shonkoff illustrated the science of childhood brain development or during the lunch panel when Boeing's senior V.P. for human resources spoke candidly about America's long-term need for creative, adaptable workers. Perhaps it happened in the afternoon workshop when Tim Bartik from the Upjohn Institute highlighted the economic returns for every dollar invested in young children. Regardless, I left Boston a believer.
What struck me most was learning just how much each of us is set up for success or struggle, productivity or incarceration, by the events of our first four years of life. It made me feel quite small. On my way home Friday, I called my mother from the airport and thanked her for reading to me every day from birth until I could comprehend the words on my own.
In addition to a fresh dose of humility, I left Boston with the passion that Kim Sheeler at the Richmond Chamber and Billy Canary at the Business Council of Alabama already have for this issue. Newly minted CCE Jim Page from the Decatur-Morgan County (AL) Chamber, who was also in Boston, informed me that early childhood education is their number one issue.
Chambers of commerce have a long history working on education. The issues are always complex and often emotionally charged. Progress is slow and setbacks are many. But education continues to top chamber agendas because businesses need talent. Our economy runs on smart, adaptable, well-educated people. The innovative, talented people America needs are shaped long before they enter first grade.
Many state and local chambers are already champions for more effective policies to help children develop into successful adults. Others are poised to join. To provide chamber leaders with the best information about the economic and workforce benefits of early childhood programs, ACCE has entered into collaboration with the Partnership for America's Economic Success, a project of the Pew Center on the States.