“Area’s with brain power have a competitive advantage over other areas,” I researched and wrote in a column 16 years ago. “Brain power is the gold of the 21st Century in America.”
I recalled this column after reading a recent opinion column by Dr. Cathy Grace, the co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at Ole Miss. Her piece highlighted Mississippi’s continued, stubborn reluctance to invest in early childhood education.
“Currently Mississippi invests $6.5 million dollars in pre-kindergarten,” she noted, adding that the Education Commission of the States report for 2016-2017 showed neighboring states Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee invested $105 million, $64.4 million, and $86.6 million respectively. All experienced higher average annual economic growth over the past decade than Mississippi, with Mississippi one of the lowest three states in the nation.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Grace concluded.
So, back to my 2003 column on brain power (excerpts shown in quotations).
“The 2000 Census shows that just one out of eight adults in our region has a university degree of any kind. Conversely, we have and continue to produce citizens without the brain power needed to compete for top 21st Century jobs. School data shows too many of our 3rd graders cannot read at ‘proficient’ levels…too many of our 7th graders are not ‘proficient’ in basic math…and too many of our students drop out.”
(While we have made some progress in these areas, particularly in third grade reading and graduation rates, we still have a long, long way to go to be a state known for its collective brain power.)
“A prerequisite for brain power is brain development. Research shows that many of our students who cannot read at grade level in the 3rd grade, who cannot do basic math, and who drop out, suffer from inadequate brain development.
“The critical years for brain development are from birth to age four. Children in poverty, unhealthy, and/or abusive environments have a high risk of poor brain development.
“Too many of our most at-risk children have little access to early childhood programs and enter kindergarten unready and unable to learn.”
(Dr. Grace brought noted researcher Dr. Craig Ramey to Jackson last year. He cited 40 years of research confirming the above but also showing that “cognitive disabilities can be prevented in early childhood.”)
(Next Dr. Grace brought Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman to Jackson. He made it clear to Gov. Phil Bryant and others attending his briefing that investing in comprehensive, high quality, early childhood education would yield a 13% return on investment.)
“Regions determined to compete in the new economy will make sure brain development programs are in place. As more children read with comprehension, the quality of school programs will increase, the quality of high school graduates will increase, and the quality and quantity of our college and university graduates will increase, providing us significant homegrown brain power.”
(On the other hand, regions that do little to spur homegrown brain power will find themselves at a competitive dis-advantage.)
Kudos to Dr. Grace for continuing her decades-long efforts to educate our leaders on facts and opportunities most other states, including our neighbors, have understood and acted upon for years…to the benefit of their economies.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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