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Presidential Candidates on Early Childhood Learning: Head Start Tops the List

October 21, 2008

Lansing, MI – It's "Head Start Awareness Month" in Michigan, and even the presidential candidates touched on the early childhood education program in the last debate. Both candidates expressed their support for "Head Start," which is promoted as the nation's most comprehensive early childhood education program.

However, Sen. John McCain called for reform, saying that research shows the positive early results "don't last." Dr. Steven Barnett with the National Institute for Early Education Research disagrees. He says that view is based on "outdated" research from 40 years ago. More recent research, including his own, shows results do last -- in fact, he says, Head Start provides the kind of "high quality" preschool proven to set kids on the right path in school.

"Good preschool education can produce lasting benefits, in terms of social and emotional development, and also cognitive development and school success."

More than 35,000 Michigan three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in Head Start.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, says Head Start is an investment to make sure the next generation can support the country. However, the numbers don't look very good at this point, she says.

"You cannot have 13 million children growing up in poverty, and a majority of all your children and over 80 percent of all of your Black and Latino children not reading at grade level."

Edelman recently wrote a book about the status of America's children, issuing a call to reverse the trending increase in child poverty. Children's Defense Fund makes the case that Head Start's comprehensive approach to families gives them the tools to lift themselves out of poverty.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MI