Our Foundation strives to improve Cleveland, but also to elevate Cleveland’s experience in ways that can advance state and national policy. In this way, Cleveland becomes a sort of urban laboratory to develop practices and initiatives that can be adopted elsewhere. One of our focuses this year has been early childhood education.
I was among a small number of private foundation leaders invited to a September meeting at the White House with President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to lay the groundwork for a national summit on early childhood education. I was also privileged to attend that summit meeting in December. The purpose of both meetings was to catalyze a push for early childhood education as a national priority. And both gatherings cast a spotlight on PRE4CLE, Cleveland’s plan to deliver high-quality prekindergarten learning and development.
Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, joined Secretary Duncan on a panel at the December summit and emphasized the vital necessity of community partnerships to create an effective pre-K program. That theme was music to the ears of The George Gund Foundation, which has long emphasized collaboration as an essential part of meaningful social progress. And in the case of PRE4CLE, I am especially pleased that the Foundation played a direct collaborative role through the work of Marcia Egbert, our senior program officer for human services. Marcia cochairs the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact overseeing the PRE4CLE initiative with CEO Gordon.
This work is part of a larger collaboration to transform public education in Cleveland through The Cleveland Plan, championed by Gordon and Mayor Frank Jackson. Our Foundation’s extensive commitment to this effort has been led principally by Ann Mullin, our senior program officer for education. The plan is showing very promising early results but much work remains, and this especially includes ensuring that children begin their school careers ready and able to learn.
The science and economics behind the push for early childhood education are compelling. We now know that 90 percent of brain development occurs by age 5 and that an infant’s brain develops 700 neural synapses — the connections that make the brain work — every second. These connections are formed through the interaction of genes and a baby’s environment and experiences. A young child’s brain suffers when it is deprived of a stimulating environment, and that has lifelong consequences. The foundation for the teamwork and creativity we expect from older students and from adult employees is laid in the first years of life.
We also know that difference in the size of children’s vocabulary can appear as early as 18 months of age. By age 3, children with college-educated parents have vocabularies two to three times larger than those whose parents did not complete high school. Disadvantaged children can start kindergarten at age 5 as much as 18 months behind their peers. If we can help them catch up and read at grade level by third grade, those children are four times more likely to graduate from high school.
Investing in early childhood education also pays huge economic dividends. Several rigorous studies have shown that a dollar spent now pays off with anywhere from $3 to $9 in savings from reduced welfare, special education and crime costs while also increasing future tax revenue.
Cleveland’s collaborative pursuit of this impact is summarized in the White House materials now housed on the website www.investinus.org which notes:
“The Greater Cleveland Community is a leader and national model for community collaboration, strategic focus, and local investment in birth through grade three strategies. This unique and transformative model has been forged through a partnership between Cuyahoga County’s Invest in Children initiative, philanthropic and business partners, the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Starting Point (Cuyahoga County’s child care resource and referral agency), the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, and now PRE4CLE, Cleveland’s new plan to ensure all three- and four-year-olds have access to high-quality preschool.”
PRE4CLE is an ambitious road map for moving this city to the forefront nationally of communities committed to the future of their youngest citizens, and we believe it is an essential ingredient to successfully achieving comprehensive school reform. Our journey toward this goal is long and really has only begun. It has been exciting to see the progress in our approach and the national interest in it.
In closing, I welcome Lara Gund to our Board of Trustees as a Trustee candidate. Her keen mind and her enthusiasm will be welcome additions to our Foundation’s deliberations in the years ahead.
President and Treasurer