Alaska’s future economy and general prosperity hang on Alaska’s willingness to put far more resources into early childhood, because the earliest years are where the biggest impact can be made. That was the core message to Alaska business leaders who gathered in Anchorage Oct. 21, 2009 for Best Beginnings’ Business Leader Summit on Early Childhood Investment.
The event was hosted by Best Beginnings, Providence Health & Services, Northrim Bank, Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, and Doyon Limited. The summit was sponsored, in part, by the Partnership for America’s Economic Success (PAES), which is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development. PAES: Investing in America’s Children: The Business Case
The summit concluded with small group discussions about specific actions business leaders can take to advance investment in early childhood development.
The following are summaries of the speakers’ comments. Speaker Biographies
Bill Millett, President, Scope View Strategic Advantage
Millett says the U.S. is falling further and further behind other countries in work force skills and education attainment, and the situation will only get worse unless the national will coalesces behind investing in early childhood development. Quoting Bill Gates, he said our performance at every level is dropping against the rest of the world.
In terms of student performance, if you’re just comparing yourself to other states, you’re setting the bar too low, he said. The global economy is already here and it means, in part, that Alaskans must compete for jobs, not just with other Americans, but with better educated and more highly skilled workers all over the world.
The solution is clear, he said, and that’s to invest much more of our resources into early childhood. That is the only way to counter absenteeism, reduce tardiness and turnover, improve morale, and grow a productive work force that is the cornerstone of any strong economy.
Pat Levitt, Ph.D.
Director, Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Provost Professor of Neuroscience, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Pharmacy
Chair, Dept. Cell and Neurobiology
Keck School of Medicine of USC
Dr. Levitt explained how the brain develops in a child’s early years and the relationship between early experiences and future success. It’s not theory; the science is clear that the brain is designed to take in information and it builds on all experiences, positive and negative. The foundations of prosperity and sustainability begin early in childhood, he said.
Early negative experiences have a biological impact, with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, mental health disorders, and diabetes. Early adversity creates a cumulative burden over time, and extreme neglect diminishes brain power. In the early years, new synapses are created at the rate of 700 per second. The neural circuits are wired in a bottom-up sequence, so that all future circuits that perform complex functions are based on the earliest ones that do simpler functions.
Healthy brain development depends on a “serve and return” interaction with a child and the people in his/her environment. Babies are not sponges. That’s why babies learn from interaction with people, but not from passively watching television.
PowerPoint: Toxic Stress and its Impact on Early Learning and Health: Building a Formula for Human Capital Development
Handout: In Brief: The Science of Early Childhood Development
Handout: In Brief: Early Childhood Program Effectiveness
Fran Ulmer, Chancellor, University of Alaska Anchorage
Why is it, Chancellor Ulmer asked rhetorically, that we spend so little on early childhood development? It isn’t a new issue, she said, recalling the 1980s and 1990s when she was in the Alaska State Legislature. Several governors have created entities to look at programs serving children and youth, which usually recommended more resources and expanded programs.
There were supporters then, but the cause for early childhood never gained enough traction. Why have we been so unable to generate the political will, she asked. At least in part, she said, it’s because there has not been enough pressure from important community and business leaders. She urged the business leaders to become those advocates.
Larry LeDoux, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Education & Early Development
Commissioner LeDoux said there are bright spots in Alaska’s education picture and progress is being made on several fronts. He said success at the end is determined by our efforts at the beginning. We must support parents, he said, and some parents need more help than others.
Leslie Ellis, President/CEO, Credit Union 1
Ellis recalled how she became committed to creating a family-friendly workplace. Early in her career at Credit Union 1, Ellis was frustrated by high turnover among promising employees because of the constant conflict between family and work. She vowed to make it easier for employees juggling children and jobs.
In 2006, Credit Union 1 opened Little 1’s Learning Center, an onsite child care facility. The center is managed by Providence Alaska Medical Center, offers full and part-time child care, preschool, and before and after school care for Credit Union 1 employees.
The child care staff are employees of Credit Union 1, which means they are paid more than traditional child care workers, and receive benefits, too. The higher salary and benefits enable Credit Union 1 to attract and retain excellent child care providers. That removes what for other working parents can be a source of tremendous stress. She said the child care center isn’t cheap, but it’s more than worth the cost.
This article appeared in the November 2009 issue of Best Beginnings E-newsletter. Please refer to our Content Reproduction Policy if you are interested in reproducing content provided on this website.