A Nobel laureate from the University of Chicago says for Kentucky to make real progress in student achievement, it must prioritize family initiatives and early childhood development.

Dr. James Heckman spoke Wednesday to a large group of politicians, educators, and business leaders in Louisville. For years he has studied how communities measure success, and he says more attention should be paid to building what he calls “character” skills in children under five years old.

“It’s obvious as the day is long. Personality skills, soft skills, physical and mental health, perseverance, attention, motivation, self confidence are also important. Character,” he said.

This starts with the family before children even reach our public education system, he said.

“Schooling–although it has an affect–what’s going on in the family has a much bigger affect than what children are doing in school,” he said.

Heckman says investing in a good base in a child’s life would give the greatest return to the community and would have a positive affect for other themes that plague the region, like the economy and healthcare.

“We know if a child is not motivated and stimulated to learn and engage early enough the more and more likely it is the child will fail downstream.”

Heckman calls it a common sense issue. And it would be hard to find anyone who says more family support isn’t needed. But he says it’s not happening at a rate that will keep the United States competitive with other countries.

Kentucky’s new education accountability results will be released on November 2, but Heckman argues some of the most important factors measuring student success won’t be included.