Tracy Zimmerman, executive director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, gave lawmakers a crash course in brain science Tuesday morning.
Members of the General Assembly gathered in the legislative cafeteria to hear about the importance of grade-level reading and getting education to kids early in life.
“When you’re born, you clearly have the cells in your brain, but the connections, the wiring, the things that allow us to function in society, those are actually formed in a child’s earliest years,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman, along with James Maynard, co-founder and chairman of the Golden Corral Corporation, and Walter McDowell, chairman of BEST NC, schooled lawmakers on the importance of early-childhood reading.
The Breakfast on Grade-Level Reading — held by BEST NC and the NC Early Childhood Foundation — was served with a slew of disturbing facts. For instance, children not reading at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out. And children not reading at grade level by first grade have about a 10 percent chance of doing so by fourth grade.
Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer spoke in opening remarks of her experience helping to raise foster children 20 years ago. She said she could tell that brain development in those early years was important.
“The brain is the muscle for reading, and it’s that simple,” she said.
Republican Rep. Craig Horn gave introductory remarks in which he reinforced the importance of having educational resources for young children.
“Without that good start, the chances of that good conclusion drop off pretty darn fast,” he said.
Maynard likened paying attention to the educational needs of young children with the responsibilities of an executive running a business.
“Let me put it in business terms,” he said. “To ensure a quality product, smart business people work with their suppliers to guarantee they’re getting quality materials. We must do the same thing for education.”
BEST NC has worked with education stakeholders to develop an education vision that includes goals, priorities, and strategies around early learning and 3rd grade reading. The NC Early Childhood Foundation is supportive of this vision, but Zimmerman said her group isn’t pressing for specific legislative actions. “We are working to provide lawmakers with a greater understanding of early learning to inform policies to improve outcomes for our children and for our state,” she said.