The Nov. 17 commentary, “Investing in early education is critical for Maine’s workforce,” was spot on. I agree with everything said by the author, Ben Gilman, and I was impressed with how many businesses are investing in the ReadyNation organization.

Gilman noted that there has been an increase in the number of public prekindergarten programs; however, there is still a large gap, with public pre-K serving only about “half of Maine’s youngest learners,” he said.

We know that early learning equals later learning and that it should come from a high-quality program. But what happens to all the children who cannot secure a spot in a public pre-K, or who attend a mediocre early learning program?

In 2011, a commentary by former Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe titled, “In education, the earlier the better,” appeared in the Press Herald. He wrote: “Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in Maine require education beyond high school, and most require a college degree. Yet, for every 100 students who enter high school, 21 likely will drop out.” He also notes that many are not prepared to succeed and fall behind.

Research has proven that by the time a child reaches kindergarten, 90 percent of his or her brain development is complete. The foundation has been set. Research has also shown that among children as young as 5, it is possible to predict which ones will graduate from high school and which won’t.

I have the unique opportunity of visiting many child care settings in southern Maine. I can tell you that while some programs do provide quality learning experiences, many others do not.

In too many programs, the curriculum is not based on individual learning. The environment does not support interest areas where children can explore, discover and create.

The families are not considered to be partners in helping the child learn and grow. Relationships are not formed between the teacher and the children.

Teachers may have minimal or little education and are not very familiar with best practices. The programs are too teacher-directed, leaving little room for children to make independent choices, which will help them thrive socially and emotionally.

I recently performed two very different classroom observations.

In one room, the environment was set up appropriately to support each child’s learning and interests. The teacher interacted with all the children; introduced daily activities, assisted them if they asked for help, had a conversation with a child who talked about going to Paris and then showed her where it was located on a map.

When a child sneezed, she immediately looked up from what she was doing and went over to hand him a tissue. She sat down on the couch next to him, and finished reading him the book he was looking at.

This teacher melted my heart, and my first reaction was: “If I could only bottle this magic potion she possesses, and sprinkle it like fairy dust.” When it was time for these children to go home, it is for certain they were walking through their front door feeling like successful learners.

The second classroom had a very different feel to it. It was a large, open space with no defined learning areas, and limited material for the children to explore. No activities were set up for individual choice, and the one activity offered could only be done as a group.

Circle time was 30 minutes – long for toddlers – which, in turn, aggravated behavior problems. The young teacher was so busy trying to deal with 18 children as a group that it didn’t leave her much time to connect with the children.

The proof is evident that we need to continue our investment in early education. We need to continue raising awareness about what a high-quality education looks like.

But most importantly, we need to continue our investment in early childhood educators, whose mission is to set the stage for learning.

We want them to think of working with children as more than a job; we want them to think of it as an investment. We want them to be competent, committed and collaborative.

Turnover is high, pay is low and many in early education are regarded as babysitters. With all of this talk about quality, in the end, isn’t it the teachers who are going to implement it?