Before we can even begin to talk about financial literacy for our children, I want to introduce you to Alaska’s Rule of 60. I am willing to bet you have never heard of this rule. However, I can pretty much guarantee that it’s affected your life if you have spent any substantial time living in Alaska.
The Rule of 60 has three components:
- A recent University of Alaska (UA) study found that 61 percent of UA in-state freshmen required at least one non-credit remedial course before they could fully engage in University level courses. That percentage is nearly twice the national average and even amongst enrollees in the UA Scholars Program the portion of students who need remedial education is no better than the national average for all college freshmen.
- In 2016-2017, greater than 60 percent of all Alaska students in grades 3-10 were “not proficient” at grade level in English and Math.
- More than 60 percent of incoming kindergartners in any given kindergarten class in Alaska are functionally “not ready to learn” as measured by the Alaska Developmental Profile (ADP) given to students as they enter the public school system. Less than one-in-five kindergartners scores “fully ready to learn” on the ADP.
The fact that our school system struggles to achieve the results we need as a society is not a new challenge, what we should realize is that our challenges start well before middle school, high school, and college. Greater data collection and advancement in brain sciences now tell us that when 6 in 10 children show up for kindergarten not ready to learn, we are putting these children, and the children who are ready to learn, at a disadvantage. At the same time, we are hobbling our education system, making it more expensive and less effective. Imagine being:
- The parent of a child who is “ready to learn” or nearly “ready to learn” and 6 in 10 of your children’s classmates are 12 to 18 months behind in learning skills on Day 1. How might this impact your child’s learning experience?
- The parent of a child who is part of that 6 in 10. You’ve loved that child since before the day they were born. You did what you thought was best for them and then sometime early in their kindergarten year you realize that your child is truly behind.
- The teacher who is charged with educating all the children in a class, but the majority of them are below grade level in most areas. You spend a sizeable portion of your day helping kids catch up instead of following your prepared lesson plan for the day. Plus, the social/emotional skills deficit of those children impacts the entire classroom.
- The municipal taxpayer who suddenly realizes that the school system needs more aides, special education teachers, and staff because we are starting behind the eight-ball from the get go. Yes, your school system needs more resources because children are not ready to learn on Day 1 and you pay part of the price.
- The employer who realizes the entry-level employees they are trying to hire lack the basic hard and soft skills that they expect from someone who has been through the American public education system.
- The child who wants to keep up with their classmates, but did not receive the stimulation and attention needed to develop early childhood learning skills.
You probably fall into one or more of these categories, meaning you have a vested interest in our “pre-school” system. A sizeable portion of the “failure” that we attribute to our school system is attributable to the fact that, as a society, we aren’t giving children the skills they need to succeed when they get to the school system. We lack significant high-quality early childhood education options for a broad slice of our society. For that failure we pay a higher price in education costs, as well as taxes, crime and overall societal productivity.
In Alaska, children who attend (any) pre-school are twice as likely to be ready to learn in kindergarten as children who don’t attend pre-school. Alaska’s small, but extremely effective, competitive pre-K grant program appears to be reducing the number of children who score “not ready to learn” by 60 to 80 percent.
A greater emphasis on early childhood education that promotes working families, preparing children to be life-long learners, and lowering total system cost will help give our children the edge they need to compete in school and in the world. We can then focus on financial literacy in their future years, instead of basic math.
Jonathan’s Takeaway Investing in high-quality early childhood education will lower education costs, lower prison costs, improve the labor force, and build a better society. In addition, because schools will have better “raw material” to start with, we will be able to focus on other flaws in the education system, such as financial literacy.
Jonathan King is a consulting economist and performance coach. His firm, Halcyon Consulting, is dedicated to helping clients reach their goals through accountability, integrity, and personal growth. Jonathan has 21 years of social science consulting experience including 14 years in Alaska. He’s also the treasurer for thread; a non-profit dedicated to improving access to, and the quality of, Alaska’s early childhood education resources. Suggested blog topics, constructive feedback, and comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect APCM’s position.