Early Head Start (EHS): Social Entrepreneurship Could Make EHS Self-Sustaining, Scalable, and a Source of Inner-City Jobs
“Closing Remarks” at the recent Mayor’s Economic Summit in Oakland included a request for proposals of violence prevention programs that are sustainable and collaborative (Dellums, 2007). The present section proposes a novel, potentially self-sustaining funding method for implementing preschool programs modeled after Early Head Start (EHS), a very sparsely implemented federal program for disadvantaged 0- to 3-year-olds. EHS currently serves only 3% of children who are eligible for this program (U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [HELP], 2007). If enacted, Senator Edward Kennedy’s Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 would gradually increase EHS implementation over a 5-year period until only approximately 6% of eligible children have access to EHS (U.S. Senate Committee on HELP, 2007). Although EHS was designed to promote school readiness, this program could also be effective for violence prevention because EHS was found to decrease children’s aggressive behavior (Love et al., 2003, 2005). However, given the above federal funding constraints, alternative funding methods must be sought if EHS is to have a significant community-wide impact on violence and school readiness.
EHS is useful for both violence prevention and enhancing school readiness because EHS was found to decrease children’s aggressive behavior, improve attention, and enhance cognitive, emotional, and language development (Love et al., 2003, 2005). EHS achieves these effects by offering multimodal services that focus on enhancing children’s development while strengthening families (Love et al., 2005). The services include parenting education, parent-child group socialization activities, case management, and health care. Each EHS program provides these services in either a center-based, home-based, or combination center- and home-based model.
The current problem of EHS underfunding could be remedied by adopting a market-oriented funding method. Compared to government or philanthropic funding sources, a market-driven social entrepreneurship approach could enable a much more rapid and widespread EHS implementation. As outlined below, this approach is based on concepts of primary prevention of violence, cognitive deficits as targets of primary-prevention efforts, and a more equitable redirection of market forces that presently increase socioeconomic class-related educational disparities.
Parental investment of resources (e.g., purchase of cognitively stimulating materials, engaging children in stimulating activities, etc.) mediated the impact of family income on children’s cognitive skills that underlie cooperative behavior and school readiness (Gershoff et al., 2007). Indeed, money apparently is no object in the rush of affluent parents to enroll their children in the most exclusive preschool programs. Thus, EHS-like programs for children aged 0-3 years may be marketed successfully to affluent parents who are eager to grant their kids any possible educational advantage. Marketing EHS to the affluent offers this educational advantage because EHS constitutes child care of higher quality than is generally available in the U.S. (Love et al., 2003). This parental indulgence of children is a powerful economic engine that would drive up educational and health disparities if the engine were left to run on its own. However, this engine could be exploited to reduce socioeconomic class-related disparities by a social venture that offers EHS-like preschool to children from affluent families. These families could be charged an amount per child that would also fund the enrollment of more than one disadvantaged child in EHS. Thus, the net effect would be a reduction in disparities due to a preponderance of disadvantaged children in these preschool programs. Although existing EHS programs improve children’s cognitive skills (Love et al., 2005), disparities could be further reduced by adding training components that target specific cognitive deficits of disadvantaged children, such as impulsiveness and low attentiveness (Gershoff et al., 2007). Of potential use for this purpose are training procedures that improve children’s inhibitory control and executive attention (Dowsett and Livesey, 2000; Rueda et al., 2005). These added training components could enable the primary prevention of violence for disadvantaged children because impulsiveness and low attentiveness in preschool-aged children predict long-term poor life outcomes, including violent criminal behavior (Caspi et al., 1996; Eigsti et al., 2006). Section II below further discusses the usefulness of training executive attention for the prevention of violence (Rueda et al., 2005).
Over 80% of children from the highest-earning quintile of California families (with annual earnings of at least $118,570) attend a preschool center in the year before kindergarten (Fuller et al., 2005). A large majority of these affluent families with children in preschool probably pay for their child’s enrollment because 60% of all California preschoolers attend a center that is fully supported through parental fees (Bridges, 2006). Given this willingness of many affluent parents to fund their 4-year-old’s preschool enrollment, it seems likely that a significant proportion of these parents would pay for EHS-like preschool for their 0- to 3-year-old children. As noted above, this marketing of EHS-like programs to affluent families would enable funding of EHS for disadvantaged 0- to 3-year-olds. A social venture based on this business model would enable disadvantaged inner-city children to benefit from an equitable redirection of funds voluntarily generated from affluent families in surrounding suburbs. This self-sustaining venture potentially could be brought to scale across metropolitan regions, in the U.S. and elsewhere, with disparate areas of affluence and poverty.
This social venture would also benefit inner-city residents by providing jobs in the EHS-like programs. The most essential aspect of preschool quality is positive teacher-child interactions rather than the earning of an AA or BA degree by teachers (Fuller et al., 2005; Bridges, 2006). Some preschool teachers have not completed high school or have only a high school diploma (Fuller et al., 2005). Furthermore, levels of child development were similar between those in classrooms with BA teachers and those with teachers who had attended specialized in-service workshops (Fuller et al., 2005). Taken together, the above evidence suggests that inner-city residents with good child-interaction skills, but without an AA or BA degree, could be hired to staff EHS-like programs of good quality. Collaborations with community organizations could facilitate the recruitment and workshop-training of residents for these jobs. In summary, by providing jobs in inner-city areas where jobs are needed most, this social venture could contribute to the goal of creating 10,000 new jobs in Oakland (MacDonald, 2007b).
This social venture adapts an EHS-like school readiness program as a violence prevention program because EHS was found to decrease children’s aggressive behavior (Love et al., 2003, 2005). Adapting a school readiness program for violence prevention is supported by neuroscientific data on brain development. Closely related prefrontal brain structures mediate the development of basic decision-making skills that support both moral behavior, which is impaired in violent individuals, and analytical reasoning, which is deficient in disadvantaged children with inadequate school readiness (Immordino-Yang and Damasio, 2007).
The above discussion emphasizes that socioeconomic class-related education and health disparities could be decreased by a social venture that provides EHS-like programs to children from affluent and disadvantaged families. As noted above, disparities could be decreased by enrolling a preponderance of disadvantaged children in these programs and by targeting the programs to improve cognitive deficits in disadvantaged children. Furthermore, a reduction in class-related disparities also would be expected on the basis of evidence that preschool, child-care, or first-grade programs produce particularly beneficial effects on problem behaviors and cognitive skills in disadvantaged children (Peisner-Feinberg and Burchinal, 1997; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Votruba-Drzal et al., 2004; Gormley Jr. and Phillips, 2005; Hamre and Pianta, 2005). In conclusion, the proposed social venture may provide a novel method for alleviating the inequalities in American society that have been rising in recent decades (Wilson, 1999).
The accompanying paper, “A Social Venture That Provides Early Education to Children of Affluent or Disadvantaged Families,” describes a social entrepreneurship approach to implementing Early Head Start (EHS)-like preschool programs for children of affluent or disadvantaged families. That paper broadly outlined an innovative business model that would use funds voluntarily generated by the participating affluent families to implement the programs for disadvantaged children. Therefore, a key plan, which could be assisted by an MBA student, will be to examine the budgetary processes of existing Bay Area EHS and preschool programs in order to start formulating a detailed business plan for the social venture.
The MBA student also could help with marketing research, which will involve surveying affluent parents with regard to their interest in paying to enroll their 0- to 3-year-old children in preschool designed for these formative years. Should such interest be sufficient, start-up funds could be generated by accepting deposits for reserving preschool placements. Therefore, the MBA student could give advice about what type of business entity (e.g., corporation or LLC) would be best suited for accepting deposits and establishing a legal structure for the social venture. If the MBA student is interested in staying involved with the social venture past the 2007-08 academic year, then the student would be welcome to help launch and oversee the venture, possibly leading to entering the venture in the Global Social Venture Competition.
The MBA student also could help recruit a computer science student, who may be able to design child-friendly hardware and software for implementation in the social venture. The computer system could offer simple training exercises aimed at enhancing attention, delayed gratification, and inhibitory control. The computer system could become a patented, legally defensible asset that could help attract investment in the venture. Under close supervision of my patent attorneys, I have had experience in writing an unrelated patent application and subsequent responses during prosecution of the application.Contact
John L. Haracz, M.D., Ph.D.
Phone: (510) 910-2025