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Md. Education Commission Should Focus on Pre Pre-School Years

December 21, 2017
David W. Hornbeck
The Baltimore Sun

Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by age 4. We also know that between about six months and age three, a child in an upper-income home hears 34 million words, in a middle-income home the number drops to 19.5 million words, and in a low-income home the number drops further to 9.5 million. Researchers have determined that exposure to vocabulary use is predictive of a child’s language skills and academic success; this means that the opportunity gap has already begun in a child’s first year of life.

So why then does Maryland wait until kindergarten — age 5 — before guaranteeing publicly supported education for all our children?

For most children from upper-income families, building the foundation begins during pregnancy with good nutrition, and early and regular prenatal care. For many of these children, a language-rich environment and multiple and varied learning opportunities at home and in the community are givens throughout their early years.

In lower income families, parents who are not provided concrete assistance in times of need have insufficient social supports and limited access to the latest research in child development. By age five, the period of building a strong foundation for school success has passed for many of their children, who will unnecessarily begin life behind their middle and upper class peers.

Gaps in nurturing care and guided learning opportunities during the first years of life have a profound impact. They lead to opportunity gaps throughout the school years and a wage gap later in life. An adult’s poor health outcomes, substance abuse, mental health problems and criminal activity can often be traced to missing these crucial supports and opportunities during his or her first five years.

What’s the solution?