A new way to get every child ready for kindergarten | Claudia Miner

I’m an historian. And what I love about being an historian
is it gives you perspective. Today, I’d like to bring that perspective
to education in the United States. About the only thing people can agree on is that the most strategic time
for a child to start learning is early. Over 50 years ago, there was a watershed moment
in early education in the US called “Head Start.” Now, historians love watersheds because it makes it so easy
to talk about what came before and what’s happened since. Before Head Start, basically nothing. With Head Start, we began to get our nation’s
most at-risk children ready for school. Since Head Start, we’ve made strides, but there are still
2.2 million children in the US without access to early learning, or more than half of
the four-year-olds in the country. That’s a problem. But the bigger problem is what we know
happens to those children. At-risk children who reach school
without basic skills are 25 percent more likely to drop out, 40 percent more likely
to become teen parents and 60 percent less likely
to go to college. So if we know how important
early education is, why aren’t all children getting it? There are barriers that the solutions
we’ve come up with to date simply can’t overcome. Geography: think rural and remote. Transportation: think
working parents everywhere. Parent choice: no state requires
a four-year-old to go to school. And cost: the average cost for a state
to educate a preschooler is five thousand dollars a year. So am I just going
to keep talking about problems? No. Today, I want to tell you about
a cost-effective, technology-delivered, kindergarten-readiness program
that can be done in the home. It’s called UPSTART, and more than 60,000 preschoolers
in the US have already used it. Now, I know what you might be thinking: here’s another person throwing tech
at a national problem. And you’d be partially right. We develop early learning software
designed to individualize instruction, so children can learn at their own pace. To do that, we rely on experts from fields
ranging from reading to sociology to brain science development
to all aspects of early learning, to tell us what the software
should do and look like. Here’s an example. (Video) Zero (sings
to the tune of “Day-O”): Zero! Zero! Zero is the number
that’s different from the others. Seagulls: Zero is a big, round “O.” Zero: It’s not like one,
I’m sure you’ll discover. Seagulls: Zero is a big, round “O.” (Laughter) Claudia Miner: That is “The Zero Song.” (Laughter) And here are Odd Todd and Even Steven
to teach you some things about numbers. And here are the Word Birds, and they’re going to show you
when you blend letter sounds together, you can form words. You can see that instruction
is short, colorful and catchy, designed to capture a child’s attention. But there’s another piece to UPSTART that makes it different
and more effective. UPSTART puts parents in charge
of their children’s education. We believe, with the right support, all parents can get their children
ready for school. Here’s how it works. This is the kindergarten readiness
checklist from a state. And almost every state has one. We go to parents wherever they are, and we conduct a key
in-person group training. And we tell them the software can check
every reading, math and science box, but they’re going to be responsible
for motor skills and self-help skills, and together, we’re going to work
on social emotional learning. Now, we know this is working because we have a 90-percent
completion rate for the program. Last year, that translated
into 13,500 children “graduating,” with diplomas, from UPSTART. And the results have been amazing. We have an external evaluation that shows our children
have two to three times the learning gains as children who don’t
participate in the program. We have a random control trial that shows
strong evidence of effectiveness, and we even have a longitudinal study that shows our children’s gains
last into third and fourth grade, the highest grades the children
had achieved at the time. Those are academic gains. But another study has shown
that our children’s social emotional gains are equal to those of children
attending public and private preschool. The majority of the 60,000 children
who have participated in UPSTART to date have been from Utah. But we have replicated our results with African-American
children in Mississippi — this is Kingston and his mother; with English language
learners in Arizona — this is Daisy and her family; with refugee children in Philadelphia —
this is my favorite graduation photo; and with Native American children from some of the most remote
parts of the United States. This is Cherise, and this is
where she lives in Monument Valley. Now, there are skeptics about UPSTART. Some people don’t believe young children
should have screen time. To them, we say: UPSTART’s usage requirement
of 15 minutes a day, five days a week, is well within the hour-a-day recommended
by the American Academy of Pediatrics for four-year-olds. Some people believe
only site-based preschool can work, and to them, we say:
site-based preschool is great, but if you can’t get a child there
or if a parent won’t send a child there, isn’t a technology-delivered,
results-based option a great alternative? And we love working
with site-based preschools. Right now, there are
800 children in Mississippi going to Head Start during the day and doing UPSTART at night
with their families. Our audacious idea is to take UPSTART
across the country — not to replace anything; we want to serve children who otherwise
would not have access to early education. We have the guts to take on the skeptics, we have the energy to do the work, and we have a plan. It is the role of the states
to educate their children. So first we will use philanthropy dollars to go into a state to pilot
the program and get data. Every state believes it’s unique and wants to know that the program
will work with its children before investing. Then we identify key leaders in the state
to help us champion UPSTART as an option for unserved children. And together, we go to state legislatures to transition UPSTART from philanthropy to sustainable and scalable state funding. That plan has worked — (Applause) Thanks. Thank you. That plan has worked
in three states to date: Utah, Indiana and South Carolina. We’ve also piloted the program
in a number of states and identified champions. Next, we’re moving to states
with the greatest geographic barriers to work the plan, and then on to states
that already have early education but may not be getting
great academic results or great parent buy-in to participate. From there, we go to the states that are going to require the most data
and work to convince, and we’ll hope our momentum
helps turn the tide there. We will serve a quarter of a million
children in five years, and we will ensure that states continue
to offer UPSTART to their children. Here’s how you can help: for two thousand dollars, we can provide a child
with UPSTART, a computer and internet, and that child will be part of the pilot that makes certain other children
get UPSTART in the future. We also need engaged citizens
to go to their government and say just how easy it can be
to get children ready for school. You wouldn’t be here
if you weren’t an engaged citizen, so we’re asking for your help. Now, will all of us this make UPSTART
a watershed moment in early education? I believe together we can make it one. But I can tell you without a doubt that UPSTART is a watershed moment in the life of a child who otherwise
would not be ready for school. Thank you. (Applause)

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