Newspaper article Roll Call

The Opportunity Challenge | Pennsylvania Avenue

Newspaper article Roll Call

The Opportunity Challenge | Pennsylvania Avenue

Article excerpt

Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Last October, a conspiracy got hatched in Beaver Creek, Colo., to change the future of America -- for the better. Its goals got unveiled at an education innovation conference I attend here every year co-sponsored by Arizona State University and the high-tech investment banking firm GSV.

The Beaver Creek gathering was attended by 140 educators, entrepreneurs, foundation executives and investors and moderated by "Good to Great" business strategy luminary Jim Collins. The group came up with the ambitious and idealistic goal insuring that every American child has an equal opportunity to participate in the future, regardless of income or ZIP code.

That's obviously not the case today; 75 percent of children born in the top quarter of the income spectrum graduate college, but only 8 percent in the bottom quartile. Seventy percent of those kids never make it into the middle class.

The Beaver Creek conspirators agreed that tackling the lack of equal opportunity is essential to undo what you could call "the Great Stall" in the life prospects for most Americans. Gross domestic product per capita doubled from 1950 to 1975, but it's been flat ever since. Median household income is below what it was in 1999. The baby boom generation ranked first in the world in high- school completion and third in college completion; millennials rank 10th and 13th, respectively. And income inequality has tripled since 1975.

How to reignite opportunity in America? The Beaver Creek group settled on 10 pillars of action, of which I think the most important are:

1. Give every child access to quality early learning. Neuroscience has established that 85 percent of human brain development occurs during the first five years of life, but the U.S. devotes 98 percent of education spending to the years after age 5. Children who are regularly read and talked to by adults -- mostly middle class and above -- have heard 30 million more words by the time they reach kindergarten than kids who aren't. Fifty-two percent of poor kids are not ready for school. Quality pre-school can be done better and cheaper than Head Start does it. Congress ought to block-grant Head Start money to the states and let them figure out how to spend it better. …

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