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Addressing the achievement gap before birth

Getting children ready to read and do math has usually begun in pre-school, but there's a new idea that perhaps it should start in the womb. Sara Neufeld, a former Baltimore Sun education reporter, has written about one such attempt in Chicago to empower mothers with information to make good decisions about their children's futures.

Her story in The Atlantic looks at attempts to arm young mothers with a host of knowledge and skills that allows them to better nurture and advocate for their children. Maryland began investing in early childhood education, opening pre-K classes in public schools and tracking school readiness because the research has shown that children from disadvantaged families often arrive in school far behind their more affluent peers and it is hard to catch them up.

Another effort will begin this year in Providence, where a $5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, will fund a program to work with families who want to increase the  number of words toddlers hear from their parents.

A 15-year-old study showed that children in poverty hear far fewer words – 32 million by the time they are 3 – than their affluent peers. That word gap, some educators believe, puts the children behind when they enter school.

The Providence program will give parents who volunteer a device to attach to their child that will count the number of words spoken to the baby during a specific period of time. If they aren’t speaking enough words to their children, the parents will be coached on how to increase their spoken language and begin longer conversations with their children. It is an intriguing idea that will likely be watched closely to see whether those babies have larger vocabularies.

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