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From K-12 to Zero-12: Transforming the Conversation at NBC’s Education Nation

On September 26, NBC News gave unprecedented national visibility to early learning. For the first-time, NBC’s Education Nation Summit convened scientists, advocates and experts on its national stage at Rockefeller Plaza to show how – and why – a child’s critical zero-to-five years are the foundation for lifelong success.

While the panelists shared diverse perspectives on a range of early learning issues, I’d like to highlight a crucial point that emerged from the discussion: America needs a sea change in the way we talk about education. It is time to transform the conversation from K-12 to zero-12.  Science has proven learning starts at birth, so we simply cannot wait until kindergarten – or even pre-k – to nurture children’s bodies and minds. If parents, policymakers and educators take away only three things from this critical discussion on NBC’s national stage, here are my top picks:

The 0-to-5 years are ground zero for children’s lifelong success: Renowned brain and child development researchers including Dr. Jack Shonkoff from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child and Dr. Andrew Meltzoff of the Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences at the University of Washington highlighted remarkable research that shows how even the earliest experiences – both positive and negative – have significant and long-lasting effects on children. Because learning in the first 3 years of life impacts the very circuitry of the brain, we must do everything we can to ensure that children have a solid foundation.

Quality early learning is an investment in our country’s economic well-being: Not only does quality early childhood education benefit children for life, it also yields significant returns to society. Education Nation speaker Warren Buffet called attention to research that showed that every $1 invested in a child’s early years returns $16 to society. We know that investing in early childhood education is more cost effective than remediation.

The U.S. will lose ground the global achievement race unless we invest in quality early learning: Panel moderator and NBC Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman asked me a terrific question that is worth repeating – why are other countries outperforming the U.S. in academic achievement? I think it is telling that top-performing countries like Singapore prioritize and invest in quality early childhood education. Americans can learn from these centers of educational excellence and call for both our government and parents to fully support investments in quality early learning.

Early childhood education can be the “great equalizer” for children’s success in K-12 and in life. Now is the time to make quality early learning a top education priority.

As Chief Academic Officer of Global Early Learning Programs at Knowledge Universe, Dr. Elanna S. Yalow, Ph.D., M.B.A. is responsible for supporting the global expansion of early childhood education programs. She is also a member of the Mom Congress Advisory Board.