OUR OPINION: ‘Brain matters’ increase as states’ policy concern

Many of the public education issues Mississippi faces already are well defined as the 2014 legislative session begins. But the reporting of new state-based application of knowledge about early-childhood brain nurture strengthens the case for our state’s taking additional wider and deeper actions to maximize what we do to shape children for success from their pre-school years to adulthood.

“State Legislatures,” the journal of the National Conference of State Legislatures, reports in its January issue about the ever-increasing evidence that early nurture and learning has positive lifelong outcomes.

The leaders of Mississippi’s pre-K education groups already understand what the article reports, but it is also important for legislators and other elected officials to understand and see what other states are doing to ensure the best and brightest outcomes for as many children as possible.

The article, “Brain Matters,” uses a term that should resonate with legislative policymakers because it is derived from real-life work and business: executive function.

Citing research that uses a marshmallow given to children with instructions and a promise of an additional marshmallow if they waited to eat the first, the children were observed for their responses.

The article asks, “What does this tell us? According to neuroscientists, the marshmallow test illustrates how well-developed a child’s self-control is – one of a set of ‘executive function’ skills that include the ability to focus, filter distractions, remember and use information, plan ahead, adjust, resist temptation, delay gratification and persevere for long-term goals.”

That of course is not the full body of research. But it is precisely the characteristics of successful adults in jobs and other adult tasks.

The state of Washington, the article reports, has made a broad bipartisan decision to incorporate brain science and the importance of executive function into its policies, especially about “promoting the development of executive function and self-regulatory skills in very young learners.”

The idea is seen as investing in what works, a policy every state should adopt.

Republican Washington state Sen. Steve Litzow, who heads the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, says science provides the data to shape legislative decisions, adding, “We know that children do not begin learning when they enter kindergarten – it really starts at birth. If we want students to be successful in school, they need to be engaged and actively learning at an early age.”

In Mississippi, all young children have those same needs.

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  • phil in tupelo

    My poll question is incomplete. If I can’t read the complete question how can it be answered?