In our last post of 2014, we discussed the White House Summit on Early Education and how James Heckman’s brief speech produced a notable a change in the panel discussions that followed. At the time of that post I was aiming to get a copy, dear reader, so I could share his remarks with you accurately and in more detail. The speech is now available, so I think we are starting 2015 right by delving into Heckman's remarkable address.
Investments in Parenting Pay Over a Lifetime
As we have pointed out in prior posts, this Nobel Laureate in Economics, has long been an advocate for early investment in children and family risk assessments, so I wasn’t totally surprised by his remarkable address. However, I have to admit being delighted by how strongly he put parents and families in the forefront of his speech titled, Going Forward Wisely. After briefly reviewing the overwhelming evidence that children’s early environments impact lifelong achievement, he turned to recommendations for policy.
Society and the programs launched by today’s initiatives should recognize that good parenting is paramount to life success. Without doubt, the family is the greatest contributor to the success of children and to upward social and economic mobility. And, without doubt, in many quarters of our society, the American family is under great stress. The way parents interact with their children, the amount of time they spend with them and the resources they have to provide intellectual and social stimulation greatly affect their children’s potential for leading flourishing lives.
James Heckman, White House Summit December 10, 2014
To bolster his argument he reviewed the Hart and Risley study showing that low income children enter kindergarten with less than half the vocabulary of children from the higher income families. We have discussed the often-cited Hart and Risley study previously in a post. Probably due to time constraints or concern of being too provocative, he didn’t go into how the usual discussions of the Hart and Risley work focus on the children’s exposure to 30 million more words before entering school. Nor did he mention how nearly everyone ignores the equally strong finding that their assessment of parenting quality was as strong a predictor of child outcomes as word exposure. Mentioning this would have further strengthened his already very strong case.
He stated his main theme by saying “Taking the long view, Americans can most effectively address inequality in society with a strategy of predistribution—by enriching the parenting resources for young children in disadvantaged environments.” He went on to suggest that our current focus on IQ and academic skills is incomplete, and stressed that research supports the need for socio-emotional skill development to be included in our efforts. He has sometimes referred to these as “soft-skills”. For more on this topic, see some of our past posts (1,2,3 & 4).
Parenting More Important than the Classroom
I almost wept with joy, when I heard a Nobel Laureate in Economics say:
We should not underestimate the role of the parent and the power that comes from providing parents with information, resources and choice. Ensuring that parents have the knowledge and resources for providing a stimulating home environment is just as important, if not more important, as anything that happens in the classroom when children enter school.
James Heckman, White House Summit December 10, 2014
After this statement he went on to remind us that the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool studies not only improved achievement and future incomes, but that more recent research shows that these interventions had dramatic positive health impacts in the long term when the children were middle-aged adults. He then reminded us that both the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool studies had robust parenting supports that were likely to have accounted for this health finding. These two programs were the models upon which Head Start and Early Head Start were developed. We have discussed previously that the parenting component has not been fully translated into most preschool programs. Thus, I was pleased to hear Heckman remind the Summit participants of this, by saying, “a stimulating home environment is just as important, if not more important, than anything that happens in the classroom.” Why don’t our policies reflect this? In his conclusion, Heckman argued that early investments in supports for disadvantaged children yield a 7-10% annual return, so pass the “market test of even the fiscally conservative.”
I am very grateful to Dr. Heckman and buoyed by the fact that he was given a forum at the White House Summit on Early Education. I am excited by the fact that a change in the conversation occurred after his speech. The full text of the speech is available on the Heckman Equation Website. I recommend you share this speech with your colleagues, your Board, and your funder. Beyond that, referencing this speech might help you obtain funding for the important work you do with parents. Lastly, I hope you will share this brief, but powerful speech with your legislators and local representatives. We need to help James Heckman spread the word about the value of supporting parents.
Assess What Matters to Children
Download our paper:
Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Make a Difference in Your Program.
Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff , families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and program.