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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Starting Line is the Finish Line

Very interesting article in the NY Times on a recent study done by Educational Testing Services which administers millions of standardized tests each year including the SAT. From the article:

"What’s interesting about the report — which combines E.T.S. studies with research on families from myriad sources, including the Census Bureau and Child Trends research center — is how much we know, how often government policy and parental behavior does not reflect that knowledge, and how stacked the odds are against so many children. (The study is at www.ets.org/familyreport.)"

Here's the crux of what they found:

"The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools."

Some causes?

"The report describes how much we rely on child care from an early age — half of 2-year-olds are in some kind of nonparental care — and how much worse that care is for poor and minority children. According to the report, poor children are twice as likely to be in low quality care as middle and upper class children, black children more than twice as likely as white children.

And it is black families who rely on day care most: 63 percent, compared with 49 percent of whites and 44 percent of Asians. Says Mr. Coley, “Our day care system may be reinforcing the gap rather than closing it.”

Another way to support parents of young children is paid leave when a child is born, which is routine in most of the world, but not in the United States.

According to Dr. Jody Heymann, director of the Institute of Health and Social Policy at McGill University, 172 of the 176 countries she surveyed this year offer guaranteed paid leave to women who have just had babies. The four that do not? Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States."

I have always thought parents are the third rail in public education. It is so difficult to talk about because who can be the one to judge another person's parenting? We all know this as a golden rule of parenting because (1) there are so many life situations and (2) who hasn't made a mistake as a parent? But, as a society, maybe we should ask why we have so many single family households and how we can support families in all their forms for the greater good.

An interesting observation appeared at the end of the article by its co-author:

"Mr. Coley believes this kind of government support is necessary if we are serious about closing the gap. “We don’t seem to get it,” he said. “Or maybe we think we can’t afford it, I don’t know.”

I don't know? Sure we know. There are people in this country who are selfish and willing to allow others to slowly (or quickly) fall to the bottom and stay there. We are in a presidential election year. Let's ask some hard questions about what these candidates believe about public education. It is beyond me how Iowa Republicans can say that illegal immigration is their number one concern (which, according to polls, it is). We only have a war on, mortgage failures, a poor health care system and, oh yeah, an education system that may be failing kids because our government doesn't want to support families. We can pay now or pay later in other ways that hurt our country and our society.

3 comments:

dan dermpsey said...

Around 1985 Charles Osgood made the following observation on his radio show. In 1960 the median house payment on the median house sale could be made with 32 hours of adult labor a month (using median wage rate).

By 1985 that number was around 100 hours.

He said the extra 70+ hours were coming directly out of the lives of our children and that society had made no attempt to compensate the children for their loss.

Now an even worse situation as we enter 2008 and still little or no attempt to compensate the children for their loss.

Cat said...

Thanks for highlighting this article. While I support paid family leave, I wonder how much of a difference it would really make. Would staying home for the first 6 - 12 months of a baby's life really translate into more reading/less tv? However, I do think that government subsidized high quality child care and/or pre-school would make a big difference in helping kids of working parents being ready for kindergarten.

My 7 year old went to and my 2 year old currently attends a child care center that has amazing teachers as well has excellent staffing ratios (1:3 for infants/small tods to 1:7 for pre-school and pre-k). My daughter learned to read while in the pre-k program. However, this top level staffing comes at a high cost - easily $15,000 a year now. Clearly out of reach of most families.

High quality child care means low teacher to student ratios - plus semi-decent wages (our center pays $10 - $13 per hour - I wish it was more) and benefits. This puts the costs beyond the means of most families. But if you want to ensure that children of working parents are truly ready for kindergarten, then I think this is what it takes.

dan dempsey said...

There are so many things of substance brought up in this post by Melissa.

Illegal immigration certainly impacts public schooling in the Yakima Valley. Visit Sunnyside and Toppenish.

As we look at recent scores in US education, we find fourth grade reading and literacy down a bit from previous years but still near the top internationally.

In math however it is an entirely different case. Currently Dr. Bergeson is spending a huge amount of money on a rewriting of the Washington math standards that could result in new EALRs and GLEs as well as a greatly different Math WASL. The current first draft released on Dec 4, 2007 is incredibly poor. It looks a lot like part of TB's re-election campaign as very little is changed.

Until OSPI in addition to their past announcement (Aug 2006) of a state-wide math failure actually takes responsibility for this mess instead of blaming everyone else, there will be little if any improvement until a new Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected.

On Thursday in Renton at the ESD the SBE math panel will be meeting to discuss the Seven things the SBE consultant directed the rewrite team to do. {the public is welcome to attend but may not participate in the discussion} It appears that TB largely ignored these SBE recommendations. It appears to be business as usual. The arrogance is consistent.