Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shame of a nation

Millions of children growing up in poverty

A couple of new reports caught my eye yesterday. The first was a new study on child well-being put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It  found that child poverty is on the rise in the U.S. with as many as 1 in 5 children living in poverty. Of course, that figure represents a nationwide average, with most of that poverty concentrated in inner cities and rural areas where poverty rates can range up to 90 percent. Child poverty, in turn, has a powerful negative impact on measurable student learning outcomes. Reports like Casey's help explain the ever-widening, so-called "achievement gap."

In the foundation's first examination of the impact of the recession on the nation's children, the researchers concluded that low-income children will likely suffer academically, economically and socially long after their parents have recovered.
"People who grew up in a financially secure situation find it easier to succeed in life, they are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate from college and these are things that will lead to greater success in life," said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "What we are looking at is a cohort of kids who as they become adults may be less able to contribute to the growth of the economy. It could go on for multiple generations." -- AP Wire
On top of that, according to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic.

As you could probably guess, Mississippi once again lags behind all other 49 states when it comes to child welfare. They're on the bottom of the scale for the 10th straight year.

Why is Mass first & Miss last?
Which brings me to the second report of interest. Thirty-two percent of U.S. students in the class of 2011 were proficient in mathematics on the PISA exams, according to the official U. S. report card on student achievement. That places the United States in 32nd place among the 65 nations of the world that participated in the math test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The lagging position of the U.S. has the neo-cons at the Hoover Institute jumping for joy. To Paul Peterson, Eric Hanuchek and their gang, this confirms everything they've been saying about the "crisis" in union-fettered public education  when it comes to preparing U.S. kids for competition in the global marketplace -- you know, the international Race To The Top.

Problem is, the PISA scores show quite the opposite.

In the top-scoring places, such as Shanghai, Korea, and Finland, well over 50 percent of students were proficient in math. But the proficiency rate in Massachusetts on PISA was 51 percent. At the bottom end, with less than 20 percent of students proficient, were countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, along with Mississippi and the District of Columbia.

In other words, national averages once again tell us very little about what's really taking place. When you break out U.S. math scores by state, the wealthiest states, the states with the lowest child poverty rates do as well as or better than any country in the world. The poorest states, like Mississippi, with the worst concentrations of child misery, score among the lowest in the world. This shows once again that child poverty is not "an excuse" for low test scores, as corporate reformers (including Arne Duncan) maintain; but rather it's the driving force when it comes to comparing student and school scores on high-stakes standardized tests.

Massachusetts, a state with strong teacher unions and relatively low child poverty rates, is number one when it comes to math scores. Mississippi, with no teacher unions and the highest child poverty rates, is among the worst. And, Mr. Gates, it's not because all the great math teachers have moved to Boston.

Yes, we need well-resourced schools with great, well-regarded, well-trained and well-compensated teachers. But if we are serious about school reform, we've got to close the child poverty gap.

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