J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
President George W. Bush smiles during what he called his final public policy speech, an address to students and educators to mark the anniversary of his No Child Left Behind law, at the General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In his book, "Schools cannot do it alone," Jamie Vollmer recounts his conversion from school critic to school ally. Speaking to a group of teachers, Vollmer bragged about how good was the blueberry ice cream made by his company. At the conclusion of his talk, a teacher asked: "When you are in your factory, standing at the receiving dock, you see the shipment of blueberries arrive, and the blueberries do not meet your triple A standard, what do you do?" "I ship them back," replied Vollmer. At that moment, Vollmer had an epiphany. Without having the ability to control the quality of blueberries he received, his company could not produce the best blueberry ice cream about which he bragged.

Similarly, John Florez can write about the need for another renaissance in education, but it will be of little value. We already have had a series of renaissances to improve our schools. In 1957, after Russia launched the Sputnik satellite into space, Congress called for a renaissance. It did not work too well. Lyndon Johnson pushed for a renaissance in 1965. Bill Clinton did the same during hs administration. George Bush named his renaissance "No Child Left Behind." We all know what a failure that was. Barack Obama came up with "Race to the Top." Not any better than NCLB. The current renaissance is Common Core. It too will fail. Vollmer says that the message is clear. In his business language, we have failed to concentrate on producing better blueberries before they come to the loading dock.

I do not mean to compare children to blueberries. I do, however, wish to stress vigorously that unless we help children and families before children enter school, whatever we do after they enter is of little consequence, regardless of how many renaissances we implement. Let's face the facts honestly. The capacity to learn is established by the growth of one's brain in the early years of life, birth to age 4. Without proper nutrition, adequate sensory stimulation, a variety of experiential opportunities and a series of positive social contacts, the child's ability to learn in school is restricted by the limitations placed on his/her brain development. Thus some children enter school with a more restricted ability to learn than other children. Children are differentiated in their ability to do well in school by their early developmental opportunities that cannot be retrieved once they enter school.

Thus the importance of early childhood education opportunities for young children and parent education for parents to develop effective parenting skills are paramount for brain development. Again in Vollmer's business language, we need to develop the best possible blueberries before we begin to make blueberry ice cream. A Zen proverb states, "The wise know what time it is." It's time to really improve our schools. Our republic depends on it.

M. Donald Thomas lives in Salt Lake City.