The other side of “Too Big to Fail”

by Bill Millett 

Over the last two years, we’ve consistently heard that the United States simply can’t let some of our largest financial institutions go under, as the consequences for the nation and many of its institutions and citizens would be dire…perhaps irreparable in many cases. 

And intellectually, I get that. What I don’t get is that we seem to pay little attention to the other side of the argument—that America’s children are not only too small to deserve to fail, but too important to the country to allow to fail. Evidence continues to mount of our decline in mathematics and science scores, while children in other countries pass us by. Yet high quality early education programs are not only underfunded already, they are at the front of budget cuts in many of our states. How much more evidence do we need to understand the short-sightedness of this approach?!

Parents as Teachers BlockFest develops math and science skills.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and other major private sector organizations are on record as defining early education as the foundation on which workforce skills are built.
  • Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, has identified the high monetary rate of return that society receives from investments in quality early education.
  • The National Science Foundation has described ways in which critical science, technology, engineering and math skills can be effectively encouraged in the earliest years.
  • Fight Crime Invest in Kids, an organization of thousands of law enforcement officers, attorneys general and crime victims, has drawn the clear connection between early education, high school graduation rates and reduction in serious crime.
  • In the last year, Mission Readiness, a distinguished group of retired military officers, has labeled quality early education as a priority national security issue. 

When our 15-year-olds rank 29th in international rankings for science proficiency (behind Latvia) and 35th in math (trailing Azerbaijan), when we comprise less than 6% of the world’s population, when a quarter of our children fail to graduate from high school (the number is even higher for Latino and African American children)…it’s time to do more than worry about our future. It’s time to recognize that knowledge, creativity and innovation drive future growth. 

Education is not constrained to kindergarten-12th grade; it’s a continuum that starts at birth. Quality early education launches children into a learning trajectory that will help ensure their success as individuals and our success as a nation. To continue to give it short shrift will have ramifications far beyond the impact on today’s kids.

Bill Millett is president of Scope View Strategic Advantage, a consulting firm based in North Carolina. He believes the key to America’s economic success lies in supporting its youngest citizens. As he travels around the country, he frequently addresses conferences and economic development agencies about the economics of investing in early childhood programs.