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May 6th, 2009
12:33 PM ET

Star power for education reform

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Actress Jennifer Garner is an artist ambassador for Save the Children."]

From CNN's Bob Ruff

There’s so much money in the Federal budget you’d think it would be easy for a worthy group such as “Save the Children” to get a chunk of it for early childhood education. But just three huge and growing entitlement programs eat up roughly half of what Congress spends. That would be Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Add in Defense and the latest bank bailouts and, well, you get the picture.

So what’s a worthy cause to do? The U.S. Branch of “Save the Children” thought a little star power would help. So they hired Hollywood TV and film actress Jennifer Garner, who’s starring in the current box office hit “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, to serve as it’s “Artist Ambassador.”

Garner, who is the mother of two young girls (her husband is actor Ben Affleck) was taken by “Save the Children” last month to an impoverished part of California to see up close what she and and the country are up against. One in six American children live in poverty, and that severely hurts their chances of getting a good education.

Garner said that visit to California’s Central Valley opened her eyes to the severity of the problem of poverty in the nation. “They don’t have a shot,” she told CNN’s Carol Costello, “so I’m going to be out there, I’m going to witness what their lives are like, and I’m going to speak for them as much as I possibly can.”

Tuesday she and “Save the Children’s” Mark Shriver held a press conference in Washington to unveil the group’s report on the state of US Education in the United States and around the world.

From there they went to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress. If you want to improve child reading scores, says Shriver, “we need to invest early, and that’s what we’re on the Hill talking about, trying to push Congress to put an extra $2 billion dollars into childhood education.”

“Save the Children’s” report is not pretty. The U.S., once a leader in education, is falling back. Americans have gone from the highest high school graduation rate in the world to 18th out of 24 industrial nations. How many American 4th graders cannot read at a 4th grade level? According to "Save the Children," 2.5 million. That’s 68% of all 4th grade kids.

How to get back on track? Garner says it doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. One tried and true way is for parents to start educating their kids early—REALLY early. “Your three-month old, or four-month old needs to be talked to, played with, read to. You can’t imagine that’s something that they would be interested in, but it is. It’s when their brain is being put together. It’s the most important time.”

Filed under: Education
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Betty

    No, NO. I know first hand as a teacher and from personal experience that
    the earlier a child reads, the more successful they are. I have been an advid reader all my life and am a college graduate with work towards a masters degree yet my dad could not read (he hide this fact) and my mom only completed tenth grade. All children will learn to read if given the opportunity. How do you account for all the immigrant parents who could not read or speak English, but their children are successful people who read well. Let's just level the playing field so that the USA can regain it's role as an education. leader in the free world

    September 9, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Elaine

    I fully support reading to children, however, Save the Children seems to be forgetting that some of the parents of these children can't read above a fourth grade level. This is especially true of many parents who have children in their teens. I wouldn't be surprised if a comparison between the children of parents who dropped out of school and the children of parents who finished high school and/or college showed that the children of the less-well educated has lower reading scores – it's a no-brainer. this relates back to the drop in reading level, high school graduation rates and college drop-out rates. The problem is much more complicated and deeper than just reading to your child 15 minutes a day; that's a band-aid.

    May 6, 2009 at 2:40 pm |