In Dallas ISD, early childhood education has been a major push in the last year. It's a move that administrators believe could one day in the future lower soaring poverty rates in a district where free and reduced lunch rates have steadily creeped toward 90 percent in recent years, and nearly 87 percent of students are classified as economically disadvantaged.
"Kids that have early childhood education have been proven to have lower teen pregnancy rates [and are more likely to] go to college ... which ultimately enables them to have a career and have greater lifelong earnings," says Alan Cohen, executive director for DISD's Early Childhood and Community Partnerships.
"This is our greatest opportunity for at-risk kids for academic and lifelong success," he says. "It's just so critical during those first five years, where 85 percent of brain development occurs. We lay the foundation to push further learning."
Part of that foundation involves educating parents alongside their children. It's called the "two-generation strategy," and it aims to build collaboration among public, private and nonprofit sectors in Texas to develop educational initiatives for families in the hopes of reducing poverty. It's the subject of a a report released today by the Annie E. Casey foundation and Center for Public Policy Priorities.
"We found that current the anti-poverty approach isn't working that well. Rates continue to rise, so what we're doing isn't working," says Shannon Moody, executive director of the Jeremiah Program, a nonprofit that focuses on the two-generation strategy to help families out of poverty. "So the two-generation approach replaces what's being done with a more comprehensive package."
Two-generation strategies typically place equal emphasis on both the parent and the child. "Those organizations that look at the whole family I think are a lot more successful in the long run in preventing future generations from falling into poverty and getting current families out of poverty," Moody says.
"We find that in the single-parent households where education is first and foremost, this really sticks with the kids, as well as the kids getting early childhood education. It's just a given that they're going to continue to see education as a way to get and stay out of poverty."
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In Dallas ISD, the district's early childhood educational initiatives incorporate principles from the two-strategy system. Research shows that kids whose mothers are well-educated are more likely to themselves be well-educated. And those kids who not only receive at-home learning from their parents but also receive pre-K education, are more likely to get into college and stay out of the criminal justice system.
"It's about alignment. Kids need lots of support, so what we're trying to do is provide quality educational experiences for children. So if a child is getting quality education experiences in their home environment, they're going to be that much more prepared when they walk into a pre-K classroom. And then we can prepare them for kindergarten," Cohen says.
For example, the DISD's H.I.P.P.Y. Program (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) includes home visits from instructors and group sessions with parents to train them in how to help prepare their children for the classroom.
"One of the very best things we can do is help parents and grandparents be in a position to provide quality educational experiences in a home environment. Because a parent is ultimately the best teacher."