Photo: Pre-K Now

Massachusetts boasts one of the nation’s top high-tech economies, so we take note when tech leaders take note of high-quality early education. That happened twice recently. In an op-ed column –“Time to turn the page” – in the Boston Business Journal, Verizon’s regional president places early education in the context of language development and literacy. A Wired magazine column — “How Preschool Changes the Brain” – examines a new study on early education by economists Flavio Cunha of the University of Pennsylvania and Nobel laureate James Heckman of the University of Chicago.

“We in the technology community are keenly aware of the critical need to ensure an adequate supply of workers well-versed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” Donna Cupelo, region president of Verizon and chair of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, writes in the Boston Business Journal. “Young children who struggle with reading will have a difficult time mastering STEM subjects.”

Cupelo cites “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success” by Harvard literacy expert Nonie Lesaux, a report on third grade reading commissioned by Strategies for Children. The report notes that in Massachusetts, 43% of third graders – including almost two-thirds of low-income students – read below grade level, putting them at substantial risk of not finishing high school or contributing to the state’s knowledge-based economy. The report also outlines strategies – including program design, professional development, assessments, curriculum and family engagement – to improve children’s language development and early literacy, from birth to age 9.

“The business community has taken notice of the recommendations in ‘Turning the Page,’” Cupelo writes. “Given the global competitiveness of today’s society, our children cannot afford to fall behind at such an early age.”

In his Wired Science column, Jonah Lehrer looks at research on high-quality early education – including the groundbreaking Perry Preschool Project – that finds significant economic, educational and social gains for low-income children who attended high-quality preschool programs. The research dovetails with the presentation on the long-term effects of high-quality kindergarten that I wrote about last week in “What a Great Kindergarten Teacher Delivers.”

“The gains from preschool appear to be so significant and consistent that, according to Cunha and Heckman, investing in early childhood education is just about the most cost-effective way to spend public money,” Lehrer writes. “The economists calculate that, for every dollar invested in preschool for at-risk children, society at large reaps somewhere between eight and nine dollars in return. That’s how I want my tax-dollars spent.”