I am impressed by the work of James Heckman as reported in the Spring 2011 issue of AFT’s American Educator.
Heckman concludes The Economics of Inequity with this comment.
The logic is quite clear from an economic standpoint. We can invest early to close disparities and prevent achievement gaps, or we can pay to remediate disparities when they are harder and more expensive to close. Either way we are going to pay. And, we’ll have to do both for a while. But there is an important difference between the two approaches. Investing early allows us to shape the future; investing later chains us to fixing the missed opportunities of the past.
James Heckman is an expert in the economics of human development. His groundbreaking work with a consortium of economists, developmental psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, and neuroscientists has proven that the quality of early childhood development heavily influences health, economic, and social outcomes for individuals and society at large.
Here are some excerpts from the article.
A large body of data from economics, biology, and psychology shows that educational equity is more than a social justice imperative; it is an economic imperative that has far reaching implications for our nation.
Heckman and his colleagues have been synthesizing what is known in the fields of biology, human development, education, psychology, cognitive science, and economics to answer three questions.
1. When does inequality start?
2. Is it worthwhile to reduce inequity by investing in education?
3. How best to invest limited resources to create more productive capital?
1. Inequality in early childhood experiences and learning produces inequality in ability, achievement, health, and adult success.
2. While important, cognitive abilities alone are not as powerful as a package of cognitive skills and social skills – defined as attentiveness, perseverance, impulse control, and sociability. In short, cognition and personality drive education and life success, with character (personality) development being an important and neglected factor.
3. Adverse impacts of genetic, parental, and environmental resources can be overturned through investment in quality early childhood education that provide children and their parents the resources they need to properly develop the cognitive and personality skills that create productivity.
4. Investment in early education for disadvantaged children from birth to age 5 helps reduce the achievement gap, reduce the need for special education, increase the likelihood of healthier lifestyles, low the crime rate, and reduce overall social costs. In fact, every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education produces a 7 to 10% per annum return on investment.
Read more at: The Economics of Inequality: The Value of Early Childhood Education. James Heckman | AFT: American Educator. Spring 2011. 31-37.
This article is based on “Schools, Skills, and Synopses,” which Heckman wrote for the July 2008 issue of Economic Inquiry available in PDF format here.