Tennessee’s Early Learning Challenge
Tennessee is experiencing an urgent early learning deficit. Two-thirds (66%) of Tennessee’s 3rd grade public school children aren’t proficient readers, and 60% are not proficient in math. For disadvantaged children the numbers are 81% and 76% respectively.  Yet 3rd grade is a critical benchmark year for future academic success.
Early deficits begin well before kindergarten.
Deficits in early literacy and math begin well before kindergarten with skill gaps widening along family income lines from as early as 9 months of age and growing exponentially by 24 months.   
Research has clearly demonstrated that early literacy and math skills as well as early workforce skills (such as cooperation and paying attention) at kindergarten entry predict future academic success.   
Early brain development plays a critical role.
The early childhood period (birth to age 5) is a time of rapid brain development, with one million new connections forming every second to create the “wiring” that becomes the foundation upon which all later learning is built. 
Adult responsiveness is the key driver of young child brain development. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain.  This is known as “serve and return” interaction and is critical for early brain growth.
Children who face adversity, like living in poverty, often are subject to unreliable, inappropriate adult responsiveness, or neglect. In these cases the developing brain is disrupted, and the child is at far greater risk for subsequent physical, cognitive and emotional impairment. 
What works to address the early learning gaps?