On Wednesday, Microsoft had the opportunity to host an important discussion about early learning in Washington state. We sponsored the conversation as part of The Seattle Times’ new LiveWire event series. LiveWire events address vital issues impacting our region and its people by bringing together local and national experts for provocative conversations moderated by a Seattle Times journalist. The early learning program did just that.
Last night’s event was moderated by The Seattle Times’ K-12 education reporter, John Higgins. Speakers included two champions for early learning: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and state legislator Ruth Kagi, who chairs the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee.
Why does Microsoft, a company that depends on individuals with bachelors and advanced degrees for its current and future success, care about early learning? Because the success of our company, and of today’s young people, are directly connected. We depend on a pipeline of well-educated workers. And other companies, as well as the government and nonprofits, have the same needs.
That’s why one of Microsoft’s top philanthropic and public policy priorities in Washington state is addressing the skills gap that keeps too many of our students from participating in the exciting STEM careers of today and tomorrow.
We believe that, in order to close the skills gap, we must begin with our youngest learners. Unfortunately, the data shows that 48 percent of those starting kindergarten in Washington state aren’t ready to learn math. Low-income children are even less prepared. When kids start behind, they tend to stay behind. We believe that a student’s economic circumstances should not determine their educational potential or life prospects. That means that no child, regardless of social-economic status, should begin their education at a disadvantage.
High quality early learning programs can help level the playing field. And research shows that they are among the most cost-effective investments in student achievement that we can make.
Here in Washington state, we focus on closing the skills gap with a cradle-to-career approach. Early learning programs such as United Way’s Parent Child Home Program and the efforts by Thrive by Five are just two ways we support organizations and causes that help youth through our YouthSpark initiative. We build on those investments by supporting K-12 education programs like Washington STEM and continue through higher education with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which supports students from low- and middle-income families who choose to pursue STEM degrees in our state.
All of us at Microsoft are proud of the work we do in creating new opportunities for students, and are privileged to be able to bring together some of the region’s top experts to discuss an issue impacting the future of our children and our state.