“It was an accident,” Arthur J. Rolnick, Ph.D. says of coming to focus much of his economic research on children. “Since we [at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis] found the way states conventionally promoted economic development to be fundamentally flawed, we argued that we have to rethink economic development in this country. That led us to ask: What sort of policies and what sort of public investments were best to promote local economies?”
“If done right, high-quality, parent focused, early childhood education programs that begin at birth can make an extraordinary difference in outcomes for both the child and society.”
On a quest to answer that question, Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald, his co-author and colleague, soon found themselves reading up on longitudinal studies of early childhood education programs and the latest brain development research. The evidence to support how critical the first years of life are in building a successful future was astounding.
What they found were very high public returns when investment in early childhood began at birth, and high-quality, parent focused programming was maintained through the preschool years. As the longitudinal studies suggested, when master level early childhood teachers are combined with regular home visits and increased parent engagement, children impacted are much less likely to repeat first grade or be placed in special education. Furthermore, they are much more likely to read at grade level by the third grade, complete high school, get a good job, raise a family, and much less likely to commit a crime.
“Essentially, we can show that if we do a much better job in getting a child ready for school, that child is going to perform much better through his or her life.”
“We have to rethink economic development, think of it in terms of investing in human capital,” Art explains. “And when you go down that road, and when you start to think about how important worker development and the quality of a workforce is, it leads you to early childhood development, birth to five– that’s where we need to be investing.”
Hear more from Arthur J. Rolnick, Ph.D. at the Way to Grow Shine Celebration, Friday, October 27. Art, a Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Art is working to advance multidisciplinary research on child development and social policy. He previously served at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis as a senior vice president and director of research and as an associate economist with the Federal Open Market Committee. Art’s work on early childhood development has garnered numerous awards, including those from the George Lucas Educational Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Health, both in 2007; he was also named 2005 Minnesotan of the year by Minnesota Monthly.