A series of conversations on our nation's most pressing education challenges took place last month during NBC News' Education Nation Summit. Focusing on "what it takes" to turn our schools and communities around, teachers, parents, students, philanthropists, business leaders and education leaders gathered in New York City to share their approaches for disrupting the status quo that hinders U.S. students' achievement on a global scale. We, at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), were proud to play a leading role in shaping this critical conversation for the fourth year in a row.
Our founder, Will Keith Kellogg, had a clear vision for "what it takes" to help children thrive, and his passion and commitment fuel our work, in spite of a federal budget crisis, never-ending cycles of poverty and growing levels of income disparities.
So, what does it take to lift children and families above the political fray and set our country up for success?
IT TAKES A FOCUS ON CHILDREN FROM BIRTH THROUGH AGE 8.
Students who aren't reading proficiently by age 8 are four times less likely to graduate on time. During the Summit, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush highlighted the importance of third grade literacy, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that early childhood education is a key component of "what it takes" to move the needle on our country's education success. Policymakers on both sides of the political aisle, parents and community leaders all recognize the power of early learning, as well as the long-term savings that come from reduced need for costly special education and remedial programs later in students' lives.
IT TAKES ENGAGING FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD SUCCESS.
Everyone agrees that the home is a child's first classroom, yet we haven't really tapped into families' impact on their children's education in early learning programs and those critical first years of elementary school. During the Summit, author and journalist Amanda Ripley, author of "The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way," maintained that parents are an integral part of the solution, while teachers in the audience urged community and school leaders to view families as assets to student learning, rather than barriers to their success. We can do better in this area by engaging with families and leaders in communities of color.
IT TAKES HIGH QUALITY EARLY LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS AND COLLABORATION BETWEEN CHILD CARE, PRESCHOOLS AND K-12 EDUCATORS.
Teachers play a critical and invaluable role in student success, but child care providers, preschool teachers and early elementary school educators need ongoing support and training to deliver high-quality early learning for all kids. An elementary school assistant principal from Virginia agreed that formal education is not the end of a master teacher's preparation. Once teachers are in the classroom, "We need to establish a community of collaboration to ensure their growth and success."
IT TAKES CONNECTING ECONOMIC AND EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT SYSTEMS TO HELP FAMILIES AND CHILDREN.
Approximately one in three Americans say that if they lost their job, they would not be able to afford housing for even one month. About one in four Americans say they have no savings at all, and that an emergency car repair, medical bill or sudden unemployment could result in financial catastrophe for them and their children. Research shows that the unrelenting stress caused by extreme poverty can produce detrimental effects on the developing brain of a young child and impact child development and learning for years to come. This is why we must help families achieve economic stability and security and pursue two-generation solutions that address the needs of children and families together. Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund noted that schools are "an expression of our broader issues in society" and argued that poverty must be ended for our children to succeed. Poverty is not destiny. Helping families boost savings and assets, as well as finding quality jobs, is essential for improving student's readiness to learn.
Through a chorus of voices, Education Nation reminded the country "what it takes" to ensure that every child has a fair chance at success in school and in life. Now it's up to all of us to take the knowledge and ideas generated during Education Nation and do "what it takes" to put them into action.