Friday, August 07, 2009
Reasons to Keep Sure Start Going Despite Expenditure Cuts
An eight-year-old boy from Harlem has a 33% chance of ending up in prison. Three-quarters of Harlem schoolchildren can't pass the grade exams for their age. A third of students drop out of high school. Unemployment is double the average. The hundreds of millions in community support and educational initiatives tried in Harlem over the past decades have effectively achieved almost nothing. Some lives have been turned around, but the grim backdrop of most people's existence has remained stubbornly unchanged.
The key period in our lives is the first three years psychology research shows and if you are middle class you start with huge leap of an advantage:
All the latest research on the brain showed that much of a child's capacity to think and to learn was set in the first three years of life. Middle-class families were spending those years talking, singing and reading to their children. Poor children weren't getting any of that. They were arriving at school with an average of 25 hours of one-to-one reading behind them. Middle-class children had had 1,700 hours, and their vocabulary was twice as large. They had learned to argue and discuss, and had been introduced to conceptual thinking. Above all, the middle-class children arrived with confidence. They had been encouraged. By the age of three they had heard six times as many encouraging words as discouraging ones. Poor children had been reprimanded two and a half times more than they had been praised.
Geoffrey Canada has pioneered the experiment whereby every child in a section of Harlem has been given intensive support with a series of Promise Academies. The results have been spectacular:
Whereas the American pattern is for the black/white achievement gap to start wide and become a gulf, so that only 7% of black 14-year-olds pass their grade in maths, the Promise academies are reversing that. Some 97% of their eighth-graders are performing at or above grade level. The elementary school has closed the racial gap in language and in maths, and the pre-kindergarten children are outperforming their white counterparts.
What has this to do with us? Well, as everyone who has eyes in their heads can see or read, we have an acute problem with underachievment as a result of poverty. Sure Start, begun in 1998, has been based on vey similar assumptions and there are indications the programme could be as successful as Head Start, the US programme which has been going since 1965. The problem is such resources cost money and in the present atmosphere cuts rather than spending are the dominant theme. Preserving Sure Start is one of the few genuine reasons still existing for voting Labour as far as I can see. We cannot afford not to progress such programmes.
I went down a few months ago to ask how about a training course to be told they are booked up for three years.
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