By Dr. Donald Miller
Traditionally, it’s the business world that’s focused on investments. Spend a million dollars on a product or an idea today and hope to recoup millions more in the future.
But, in San Diego, law enforcement leaders also see the value of paying now to save later. They’ve come together to urge state and federal officials to support high-quality early education now in hopes of reducing crime and cutting costs for correctional services later.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California recently issued a report calling on lawmakers to adequately fund early education programs and shift away from a model that focuses on the traditional K-12 model of learning.
The report notes that “at-risk children who attend high-quality early education are less likely to commit crimes as adults and more likely to complete high school and become competent adults who can support themselves and their families.”
Early education is critical to the success of our nation’s children. As a pediatrician, I see this day in and day out at my practice.
I participate in Reach Out and Read, a national, nonprofit, school readiness organization that helps doctors promote the importance of early education and school readiness. The program provides funding for books, as well as early literacy training for pediatricians and nurse practitioners.
At regular pediatric checkups, we give every child 6 months through 5 years old a new, developmentally-appropriate children’s book to take home and enjoy. We stock our waiting room with reading tips, literature-inspired posters and books — books to read and books to take home. Our doctors and nurses speak with parents about the importance of reading aloud to their young children every day.
Hard research confirms that reading to children improves their chances of success in life. And these days, reading is more important than ever.
America’s early education system is in crisis. More than 34 percent of our children enter kindergarten without the basic language skills they will need to learn to read. Most young children in San Diego County are not read to on a daily basis. Despite the billions of dollars invested in remedial reading programs, those millions of children are unlikely ever to catch up.
It should be concerning to see that San Diego County spends more than $800 a million a year on special education services, but only $83 million on state-and federally funded preschool that served our local 4-year-olds in the past fiscal year.
The key is early education – not catch-up education. According to the report, quality early education saves as much as $16 in the long run for every dollar invested.
And there’s a giant payoff for our children. Stepping in now reduces the risk of reading difficulty — which leads to an increased risk of school failure, dropping out, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy.
Just as we give prescriptions for medications, Reach Out and Read doctors give prescriptions for kids to read. These are the prescriptions which really make a difference.
We know that families served by Reach Out and Read together more often. We rely on parents being their child’s first and best teacher. Their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and a six-month developmental edge over their peers.
My patients come to their routine visits looking forward to getting a new book and building their in-home collections, and ask for books any time they are in for an appointment.
They’re better prepared to achieve their potential and in turn, help our nation achieve its potential. They’re more likely to stay away from crime and out of the state’s correctional facilities.
And it all starts with the turn of a page.
Dr. Donald Miller is a pediatrician and the Medical Director for Reach Out and Read San Diego. Reach Out and Read San Diego is a program of the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP-CA3).