Gov. Snyder gets it right on early childhood education

Governor Rick Snyder has become a champion for investing in pre-school education doing far better than all his counterparts across the nation. He is making a wise investment in our children and our collective future. His most recent budget continues this trend.

It makes a lifetime of difference, brain researchers vouch for it, educators swear by it, Nobel Prize winning economists say it is the best investment we can make as a state and nation. Parents instinctively know it matters.

What is "it?" High quality early childhood education.

My teenage daughter grasped the importance when she asked me about the speech I was working on while serving as Michigan's state superintendent over a decade ago. I rambled on in greater detail than any teenager wanted to hear from her dad about the importance of the first few years of life, how up to 85 percent of the human brain is developed in these critical years. She cut me off with a roll of her eyes, a "Duh ‒ well, if that is true, Dad, why doesn't school begin until age 5?"

Why, indeed. Out of the mouths of babes.

Researchers continue to document the value and importance of the early childhood years. The "nerd" governor knows how to dissect data ‒ and the data is clear, investing in quality, per-school education pays off.

Education professor Susanna Loeb of Stanford University has found that K-12 schools do not create achievement gaps, because by the time children enter kindergarten, dramatic socioeconomic and racial school readiness gaps are deeply entrenched. The gap surfaces as early as 18 months of age and widens throughout early childhood, her research shows.

About 75 percent of America's 17-24-year-olds are ineligible for military service due to a lack of quality education, health problems or criminal history according to the report "Mission: Readiness -- Military Leaders for Kids.”

Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in releasing the report said, "We need to ensure all young Americans get the right start in life." Investing in the early years will help remedy the problem.

James J. Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago specializing on the economics of early childhood, won a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work (

Heckman shows from an economic perspective that investing in the early years is a solid investment for all of society. He says, "Every child needs effective early childhood development to be successful, but disadvantaged children are least likely to get it. We all suffer as a consequence.”

The dropout problem facing Michigan and America does not spring from the rebellious teen years. It begins early on when we do not provide the foundation on which all children can succeed.

As president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County Florida, (1996-2001), (a private business organization consisting of the communities top business leaders) we joined forces with educators and youth advocates in 2000 and passed a dedicated tax increase for early childhood education. The business community looking at the data knew it was a wise investment.

Global Collaboration/Competition

Governor Snyder, a strong advocate for quality early childhood education, has traveled to China on four international trade missions. He understands Michigan is two beautiful peninsulas ‒ we are not an island.

There are many who fear China's rise will come at our demise. They express the fear of cheaper labor in China turning it into the "factory for the world." Yet the greater threat is China's desire to become the "Innovation Nation."

John Kao, dubbed "Mr. Creativity" by The Economist, is the chairman for the Institute for Large Scale Innovation and author of Innovation Nation.

Kao points out China's investment in human capital is for the long haul. In his blog on China and innovation he presents a startling picture of a country on the move, whose drumbeat is ... innovation.
Staying even is falling behind. In the game of global economic competitiveness ‒ Michigan and America are far from even.

In an attempt to "catch up" we need to stop the ideologically driven debates and have a stronger push to invest in education from the cradle-to-grave. Looking at the research, data, return on our investment and a Chinese long view of the world we would be wise to continue to invest in the earliest years.

As my daughter would have said, "Duh!"

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Bill Fullmer
Thu, 06/11/2015 - 2:09pm
Mr. Watkins brings together many good points including the research base behind early childhood development. What the developing fetus experiences in the womb makes a difference. What the newborn hears, sees, feels, tastes and smells in the first 6 months is important to brain development. Duh is right. There's no debate about the value of improving those early year experiences for kids.