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Sometimes, They Listen

April 18, 2016

Sometimes, They Listen

From climate change to vaccinations, a lot of voters are telling us they place no value on assertions made by academic researchers or bona fide scientists. To listen to the misinformed, the globe isn’t heating up, and inoculations do more harm than help.

It makes my head spin.

So I was so heartened to read the results of the latest Finn Futures poll. In previous rounds of polling, we’ve asked respondents their views on the workplace, healthcare and college. This time around, we asked citizens’ views on the public education system. Remarkably, and thankfully, these respondents showed us that – at least in some areas – they are listening to research and using science to influence their attitudes.

Most tellingly, 77 percent of those surveyed say early childhood programs should be free and accessible to all. That is a 24 percent jump compared to responses from a similar survey conducted just last year by the Progressive Change Institute and GBA Strategies. This significant jump most certainly is the result of intense efforts to raise awareness of the critical importance of investing in quality early childhood care, an investment which studies show can potentially transform a child’s life trajectory. Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman of the University of Chicago, most notably, has demonstrated the highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five.

Other findings from the poll also suggest people are listening to research about what really moves the needle on improving student learning. For example, more than half of those surveyed (54 percent) also believe teachers in the U.S. are not getting the appropriate level of training needed to be effective in today’s classrooms. This, too, reflects large bodies of research recently publicized that show significant gaps in teacher training in the U.S.

As all of us in public policy communications and advocacy know well, members of a community will not demand change to a system until they develop a deep understanding of the issues at hand. I believe the dramatic change in support for free early childhood education reflects that change in awareness. Now it’s only a matter of time before more and more policymakers hear their constituents and make high-quality early education programs free to all.