Sunday, January 1, 2012

Building Education on a Solid Foundation

A guest post by Joseph Baker

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I can tell you without any hesitation that I wanted to be a paleontologist. Like most kids, I was interested in dinosaurs. I had books and toys, but in 1993, something happened that changed my life. Jurassic Park came out. Watching the T-Rex chew through an electric fence and terrorize kids only a bit older than me through the sun roof of a custom Ford Explorer made it clear: dinosaurs were awesome.

As I continued to grow, I carried a passion for the Paleolithic through grade school, but in middle school it became clear (after some tough science classes) that perhaps it wasn’t my knack. Not only that, but Jurassic Park 3 left a bad taste in my mouth and possibly killed my enthusiasm for archaeology.

When I finally did grow up, after the tumult of college and “finding myself”, I discovered a career in the creation of rapid prototypes and thought, “perfect”. Now I had the chance to work for clients that reproduced dinosaur skeletons, so I could ply my elementary expertise in dino archaeology while getting in my artistic druthers.

Although I didn’t end up becoming the new Dr. Alan Grant, my parents, teachers and educators supported this. Teachers would let me walk out of school with books, assign me Jurassic related book reports and foster my thirst for knowledge.

It’s more important than ever to facilitate a rich, worthwhile early education for young kids. Years ago, when Race to the Top was nabbing headlines, but recently Minnesota was awarded with the $45 million in federal funding in recognition of the hard work of teachers, parents, and administrators who strived to create positive and effective learning atmospheres in schools. Art Rolnick with Minnesota Public Radio writes about the importance of early education on the MPR blog:
“…research shows that when kids start school far behind they don't catch up. Many of those kids drop out of high school and are much more likely to struggle in our society. Indeed, criminologists claim that they can predict the need for prisons in the future by the number of children who are not proficient in reading by the third grade.
However, research also shows that high-quality early childhood education and development, starting as early as prenatal development, can go a long way in assuring that children thrive in school and succeed in life. The question, then, is how to create an early childhood education system that is cost effective, high quality and can readily be brought to scale. “
The Race to the Top program came under some fire at inception due to the perception that it placed states in contest with each other and held a carrot in front of a famished education system. Widespread cheating in Georgia is often cited as a result of this dangling – forcing whole districts, counties and states to fight for salvation in a desert of finance.

Whatever the case, the funding will certainly benefit those schools that foster early education.

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