Harper: Education Report Focuses On Early Learning

Feb 26, 2015

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses early childhood learning, which is the subject of the third and final installment of the Studer Community Institute’s three part series on education in the Pensacola Metro area.

Credit University of West Florida

Harper is director of the Institute, in addition to his role as director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement.

The education report, which is being distributed as an insert in the Pensacola News Journal, provides an in depth examination of some important successes and challenges in the field of education, particularly in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

“We hope this body of work will give our community a better understanding of where we are and more importantly, where we can go to improve our education system and our quality of life as a whole,” Harper said.

This final six-page insert will be published in the PNJ this Sunday, March 1. It’s titled ‘Building a Better Reader.’

“It points out what researchers know so well, which is it has to be an early intervention and that kids acquire their skills early. And, if you wait until they’re already at school, then kids are at a disadvantage if they haven’t learned basic literacy skills by then,” said Harper.

The first report in the series, published in the Sunday, Feb. 15 edition of the PNJ, takes a look at 15 years of FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) testing in Florida, including school grades, test-focused curriculum, and the resulting educational outcomes.

This second installment, a six-page insert in the Feb. 22 Sunday edition of PNJ, takes an in depth look at the successes of a Charleston, South Carolina school system.

Credit University of West Florida

Given the importance of early childhood education, much has been written about the learning disparities among children living in poverty here and elsewhere.

“That’s a challenge in any community and of course, we face that challenge here,” said Harper, correlating higher educational outcomes with higher family economics.

“A lot of the issue needs to be addressed for kids coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. And, there are clusters of kids, of course, in schools around the districts in Escambia and Santa Rosa.

In the insert, Shannon Nickinson has an article featuring the turnaround at Oakcrest Elementary School in the Escambia County School District, which had been ranked as an “F” school back in 2006, and within five years (2011) moved up to an “A” ranking.

Harper says school leaders there have undertaken a more holistic approach, crediting hard work and increased engagement with families and students.

“The philosophy at Oakcrest is ‘we have to reach our students every day in every way that they need,’ even if that involves things like walking them to school, making sure that they get there.”

Also featured is an examination of the Thirty Million Words project. The University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine research shows that kids that are exposed to more reading and hear more works is highly associated with kids’ ability to learn later in life.

Playing a role in early childhood education throughout Florida is the Early Learning Coalition. “They do a lot, but the School Readiness Coalition says we have a waiting list for the school readiness program of 1,200 kids in our community,” Harper said.

He says the goal is to have the resources needed to provide the kids the resources they need to get the head start they need to be successful in school.

One such initiative is ECARE (Every Child A Reader Escambia), which was started by a coalition of business and education leaders. An article by Mollye Barrows looks at how early language builds readers.

The conclusion is that there is work to be done on the education front.

Harper says if we want to enjoy economic success as a community, then we have to make an effort to make sure that these kids who get the resources they need to succeed in school.

“As the insert points out, the ones who are in pre-school today are gonna be the Class of 2028. And, if those are going to be kids who grow up to earn high wages and high-skill jobs, then they have to have the tools to work with.”

You can link to the Pensacola Metro Education Report and follow the Institute’s progress at the Studer Community Institute on Facebook or at PensacolaToday.com.

Dr. Rick Harper is director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement and also serves as director of the Studer Community Institute, a Pensacola-based organization that seeks citizen-powered solutions to challenges the community faces. rharper@uwf.edu.