23 October 2008

Kids Having Kids

The non-partisan Urban Institute today announced the release of the second edition of Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy.

Sections of their release follow:

Teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States are the industrialized world’s highest. Each year, 7.5 percent of all 15- to 19-year-old women become pregnant, resulting in 442,000 births among teenagers in 2006.

The second edition of Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy from the Urban Institute Press examines the context and impact of teen parenthood and finds no simple relationship between a person’s early parenthood and her or her family’s subsequent health, wealth, or education. Instead, the volume’s 21 contributors find, many personal and economic factors combine to influence the life of a teen parent and her family.

Economists V. Joseph Hotz, Susan Williams McElroy, and Seth G. Sanders in one chapter acknowledge that women who have babies during their teens tend to have lower levels of education, employment, and earnings, to depend more on public assistance, and to spend more time as single parents. “It is no wonder that teenage childbearing is perceived as a trap door that propels young mothers downwards socioeconomically,” they write. That said, they find that teens who have their first child before age 18 do not work less, earn less, or receive less spousal income and are not more dependent on public assistance than similar young women who delay childbearing.

Yet, in a companion analysis of newer data, Saul D. Hoffman describes worse circumstances for recent groups of early parents and finds that a teen birth reduces the likelihood a young woman will continue her education beyond high school. Additionally, a teen mother’s earnings and spousal income both are lower than if the young woman had delayed a first birth, according to Hoffman.

Children of teen mothers score lower than children of older parents in assessments of health, cognitive ability, and behavior, report contributors Jennifer S. Manlove, Elizabeth Terry-Humen, Lisa A. Mincieli, and Kristin A. Moore. Much of the difference disappears, however, when researchers control for such background factors as a teen’s education, her mother’s education, and whether she grew up with both parents. Some negative effects consistently trump background. Babies of teen mothers are more likely to have a low birth weight, and daughters of 18- to 19-year-old mothers have lower odds of completing high school.

Manlove, Terry-Humen, Mincieli, and Moore write, “When social, economic, and demographic factors are controlled, many findings diminish or go away, which suggest that improving a mother’s educational and social circumstances would contribute to better outcomes for children. In other words, delaying the first birth is part of the story but not the whole story.”

The book’s analysis of the economic costs of teen parenthood is equally multifaceted. Editors Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard report that women who become parents before age 18 have about $1,600 more in net annual income from all sources, including public assistance, than would be expected if they delay childbearing until age 20 or 21. Women who become parents at 18 or 19 have average net incomes about $300 higher than expected if they delay childbearing. Teenage motherhood costs taxpayers about $7.3 billion annually in social-program costs, including foster care and incarceration, as well as diminished taxes from lower-earning and lower-spending teenage parents and their children.

Kids Having Kids also measures teen parenthood’s effect on child abuse and neglect and on the likelihood that the child of a teen mother will grow up to commit crime, truncate his or her education, or become a teen parent.

Kids Having Kids is a volume of comprehensive research and analytical rigor. Hoffman, Maynard, and their colleagues disentangle the many complicated social issues surrounding and affecting teen parenthood, allowing policymakers and advocates to develop the right responses for the right problems.

Kids Having Kids: Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy, edited by Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard, is available from the Urban Institute Press (ISBN 0-87766-745-2, $34.50.).

Read more, including the introductory chapter, at https://ummail.memphis.edu/owa/redir.aspx?C=3d8e9c2fe63b44f6b540b11828797082&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.urban.org%2fbooks%2fkidshavingkids.

Translating America's Shared Concern with Children into Political Action

In a recent guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Center for Urban Policy director Doug Imig argued that the upcoming national elections offer a critical opportunity for voters to rally behind our shared concern with children's well-being. The future we ask policy makers to ensure for all children is one where kids arrive at the schoolhouse doors happy and healthy and ready to learn, where families are passionate about public schools, where students both excel academically and volunteer in their communities, and where teens graduate and avoid risky behaviors like becoming parents long before they are ready to shoulder adult responsibilities.

The science behind these findings is strong and persuasive, and the basic idea just makes intuitive sense: When we invest up front to set kids on the right path today, we are investing in the future health and strength of all own families and communities. It's time for us to realize that our concerns with children are shared, and that making smart choices now will improve their condition. It's time to demand that our candidates tell us what they will do to move the country in the direction we would choose for all our children.

To access the column, please visit:

19 August 2008

Stable Family Formation and Child Well Being in Memphis

Across the U.S., the average age at first birth has held steadily over the last several decades. At the same time, the age at first marriage has gone up. This trend in family formation patterns has lead to an increase in family instability which has significantly decreased child well-being. There are only two permanent solutions to this form of family instability. As a society we can encourage marriage at younger ages or we can encourage delayed childbirth and parenting (Sawhill 2002).

Multiple factors influence whether a person decides to become a single parent at an early age or chooses to delay parenting until after they are stably married and have completed their education (McLanahan 1994, Sum et al. forthcoming, Marini 1984, Western 2004, Edin and Reed 2005).

I. Challenges Facing Never Married Parent Families

Never-married and separated parents often have educations that stopped with high school, and struggle to support their families on low incomes. This profile accounts for roughly 32% of families with children in Memphis and Shelby County. These families are most often headed by mothers. These children and families seldom often have little interaction with absent fathers and are likely to experience high levels of family, residential, and school transience and instability.

· Nearly half of all African American families raising children (45% of all black families with children and 50% of African American children) in Shelby County today have never-married or separated parents.
· Families raised by never-married and separated parents in Shelby County have an average income of $21,602 (or 122% of the poverty line for a family of three). Among both Black and White families raising children, parents who are separated have less income than never married families raising children.

Children born to single-parents are 5 times more likely to live in poverty, and consequently are less likely to have access to nutritious diets, regular health care, high quality center-based preschool, are less likely to be read to frequently, and – as a result – are likely to reach school well behind their peers raised in middle-class, married-couple families.

II. What Factors contribute to the Rise in Never Married Parenting?

High School Drop-Out Rates
The likelihood that a family will be raised by a never-married mother is significantly related to the mother’s overall level of education. Economist Andrew Sum notes that 70% of mothers without a high school diploma will never be married vs. 10 to 15% of mothers who have master’s degrees (Sum et al., forthcoming).

Decline in Real Wages
“Between 1980 and 1990, women with a high school degree experienced a 2 percent decline in earnings, while men with similar education experienced a 13 percent decline. This absolute loss in earnings particularly discouraged marriage by some low-skilled men who were no longer able to fulfill their breadwinner role” (McLanahan 1994).

Teen Pregnancy
Daniel Lichter of Ohio State University has found that women who have given birth out of wedlock are 40% less likely than women of comparable race, economic background and education to eventually marry. The rate increases to 51% when we exclude women who subsequently married the father of their first child (Sawhill 2002).

Rising Incarceration Rates
Men who are incarcerated are much less likely to get married than their counterparts. Rising rates of incarceration among African American men contributes to lopsided gender ratios among African Americans in urban areas (Western, 2004: 12).

III. Helping Create More Stable Families in Our Community

A. More Education for Women
Child birth is the single life event that most consistently corresponds with the ending of a woman’s education. (Marini 1984)

The vast majority (~75%) of unmarried mothers in our county stopped their formal education with high school graduation. In contrast, married mothers in Shelby County consistently have completed some college and a sizeable proportion (43%) have a bachelor’s degree or better. In Shelby County the average age at first birth for single mothers is 21; the average age at first birth for married mothers is 28 (Shelby County BCS data, 2006)

When a woman has an education that she is invested in pursuing, she has a tangible reason to delay childbearing, which in turn increases her income, job stability and the likelihood that she’ll marry before she begins her family.

B. Raising Men’s Incomes
The general pattern that emerges from both local and state level data on men’s levels of participation in marriage and parenthood is that having more education does not increase a man’s propensity to be a married parent.

Although more education does not mean a man is less likely to become a single father, earning a higher income does correspond to a reduced rate of single fatherhood. This finding suggests men are more likely to delay parenting until after marriage when they believe they will have the capacity to meaningfully contribute to the financial well being of their families.

Average yearly personal income for a married African American father in Tennessee is $40,592. Average yearly personal income for a married white father is $45,447.

In contrast, the average yearly personal income of a never married African American father is $12,329; and the average yearly personal income of a never married white father is $14,848.

02 June 2008

The Will to do Better by Our Kids

Sunday's Commercial Appeal column by Chris Peck featured a presentation by Doug Imig, Director of the Center for Urban Child Policy at The Urban Child Institute, to the LeBonheur Children's Medical Center.

The presentation featured projections about the "Class of 2024" - that is, the kids who were born last year who will be graduating from high school in 2024. Among his findings:

"About 50 percent of the kids in the class of 2024 in Memphis will grow up in poverty,'' he noted.

About one in three will never be comfortable readers. About one in four will have dropped out of high school before graduating. And perhaps 10 percent in each high school year will have an unplanned pregnancy.

These numbers include all students in Shelby County. Exclude the more affluent kids who live in the suburbs from these results, and the picture grows even dimmer for kids living in the heart of Memphis.

Many of the kids who get off to a slow start in school, and who grow up in poverty, never escape these twin burdens. They end up living at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale and clinging to the social service net to simply get by.

The real questions, however, is whether the community has the political will to change the future for these children:

It means thinking of the different outcomes the community would like to see, and changing the politics and social support structure to get to those outcomes.

A place to start, Imig believes, would be for Memphis social service leaders and concerned politicians to search out programs elsewhere that have helped kids and their parents break the mold of their difficult circumstances.

One source for finding such programs is the Promising Practices Network (promisingpractices.net). This national organization has looked at hundreds of social service programs that profess to improve the lives of children. The programs are evaluated carefully and those few that show concrete results are then endorsed as either "proven" practice or showing signs of being a "promising" practice.

What's most important about the presentation given by Dr. Imig is the idea that "Statistics are not destiny. In fact, we know what works with kids to change their lives."By assessing best practices from nationwide programs and taking them to scale based on the eligible kids and families in our community, we can project what kind of a difference we can make in terms of financial and social outcomes in the future. If we invest now, we know that we will make tremendous gains both economically and socially, improving the lives of children and families and making a stronger, safer, more educated, hardworking and well-functioning community free from the legacy of poverty and distress that creates problems for so many of our children.

Click here for the rest of the article from the Commercial Appeal. For more information, you can contact Dr. Imig at dimig@memphis.edu.

28 May 2008

Growing Up with a Single Parent: What hurts, What helps

Dear Friends,

We at CUCP have recently come across some really interesting and insightful research on the effects of single parenting on children from the book called Growing Up with a Single Parent: What hurts, What helps by researchers Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur. Their work disaggregates the types of single parent families in a very thoughtful way: all families headed by single parents are not of one kind. Children growing up in families where their primary parent was never married have different outcomes and problems from children growing up in families of divorce and remarriage. One of the most important lessons we can learn from their work is that there are many kinds of single parents and many reasons for single parenting.

Among the findings from their research that we found particularly compelling were:

  • Low income – and the sudden drop in income that is often associated with divorce – is the most important factor in children’s lower achievement in single-parent homes, accounting for about half of the disadvantage. Inadequate parental guidance and attention and the lack of ties to community resources accounts for most of the remaining disadvantage.
  • A mother’s education is generally regarded as the single best predictor of a child’s school achievement and thus it provides a good benchmark against which to evaluate the importance of other variables. Having a mother with less than a high school degree, as compared with having a mother with a high school degree, doubles the risk of dropping out of school.
  • According to our findings, the age of the child at the time of family disruption is not related to the risk of dropping out of school or early childbearing. Children who experience family disruption before they are five years old have about the same chance of dropping out of school and having a child before age twenty as children who experience a disruption during adolescence.
  • Moreover, the number of years of exposure to single parenthood does not seem to matter either. Children who live with a single mother for less than five years are about as successful as children who live with a single mother for more than five years. Even multiple changes in the family structure do not discriminate among children from one-parent families. Children who experience two or more disruptions due to divorces and remarriages have about the same risk of dropping out of school and having a teen birth as children who experience only one disruption.
  • Income accounted for about 50% of the difference between children in single-parent and two-parent families in all three educational outcomes (test scores, college enrollment and college graduation).
  • Children from one-parent families, and especially children who do not have a step-parent attend schools with a higher percentage of minority students and minority teachers than children in two-parent families.
  • 2/3 of the difference between children in single-parent families and two-parent families is due to differences in residential mobility. The rest is due to family income. Income and residential mobility together account for all of the educational disadvantage of children living in single-parent families.

We would like for you to remember a few things from this book:

  1. Not all single parent families are alike. Never-married, divorced, remarried and step-parent families have varying effects on children.
  2. Children from single parent families have a much more difficult time in school and in life than do children from two-parent families.
  3. Disruptive events in a child’s life – whether occurring early or later on – can change the trajectory of their potential success. Income, parental involvement, mobility and social capital – the benefits that kids get from their neighborhoods and communities – are incredibly important to their overall social and academic well-being.
For more information, please contact cucp@theurbanchildinstitute.org.

20 May 2008

Uninsured Children Update

Dear Colleagues,

We’d like to share with you a recent fact sheet produced by the Center for Urban Child Policy at The Urban Child Institute. This fact sheet estimates the population from 0 to 8 (and 0 to 3) in Memphis and Shelby County that is eligible for TennCare, but remains uninsured.

Among the key findings:

  • There are currently 259,476 children between 0 and 8 on TennCare in the state of Tennessee
  • Approximately 45,000 of these children reside in Shelby County (32,000 within the City of Memphis).
  • By a conservative estimate, 21,465 children in the state between 0 and 8 qualify for TennCare but currently lack insurance coverage of any kind.
  • 3,700 of these uninsured children reside in Shelby County with 1,120 in the City of Memphis
  • 1,550 children 0-3 in Shelby County qualify for TennCare but are uninsured.

The Center for Urban Child Policy conducts public policy analysis and outreach as part of The Urban Child Institute in Memphis, Tennessee. The Center is committed to building public will and a sustained political voice for children in order to improve the well-being of all children and their families.

We welcome your questions and comments.


Frances Wright
Doug Imig

12 May 2008

Safety Net Programs Show Holes in the System

Moving people from public assistance to financial independence is a delicate matter. It involves coordinating so many competing elements - child care, food, transportation, utilities, rent, clothing and incidentals. Many families rob Peter to pay Paul, skating by month to month, living paycheck to paycheck because the low-skill, low-wage jobs where they have found employment do not pay a living wage, a salary that will support families with children. The working poor have to make very difficult choices - to keep the lights on or to buy food (pantries and food aid agencies across the country are experiencing shortages presently); to repair the car or to buy medicine for the sick kids; to pay the rent or to fill up the gas tank to get to work. And at least in Memphis, public transportation is not a viable option for many people. Erratic bus schedules and inconvenient bus lines make getting to and from work - with kids and groceries in tow - a mighty challenge.

So some states are trying to help their working poor, the people who have moved from public assistance to paid employment but who are still having trouble getting by. States are giving monthly cash stipends to working adults to help them make ends meet.

From the New York Times article:

The women are pioneers in an emerging social experiment as states across the country try to go beyond simply moving people off welfare. Over the last two years, officials in Arkansas and at least a dozen other states have announced plans to extend the safety net — through monthly cash payments — to thousands of low-income workers struggling to gain a foothold in the work world. Arkansas provides poor working parents with $204 a month, plus bonuses for staying employed, for up to two years. Oregon offers $150 a month for up to a year. Virginia gives $50 a month for up to a year. And the California Legislature is considering a plan, proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to provide $40 a month to 41,000 working families that receive food stamps. “The goal had been getting parents off of welfare,” said Jack Tweedie of the National Conference of State Legislatures, who counsels states on poverty issues and has advised Arkansas officials. “The emphasis now is much more on work and helping parents stay in work.”

This is a laudable effort. Strengthening the safety net for working families - the adults who are trying their best to get on and stay on their feet - is of utmost importance. It is the right thing to do to care for families with children. Unfortunately, these cash-assistance efforts miss the point: many jobs in our country do not pay a living wage. They do not have a career ladder that provides upward mobility for families. They are jobs for an expendable workforce, often without benefits or full-time employment. They are jobs that do not pay enough for a family to get a leg up and out of poverty, or even low-income status.

An adult earning minimum wage - $5.85/hour - working full-time, year-round will still only make $12,000 per year. For a family of three, the Federal Poverty Level is just over $17,000 - which means that even if there are two adults earning minimum wage in full-time, year-round work, their combined annual income will only be $24,000, which still puts them squarely in the low-income bracket. The added cash-assistance boost will help a little bit, but not enough to address the root causes of poverty: a well-maintained system of institutionalized poverty in which the growing divide between the very rich and the very poor spans wider every year. Barbara Kellerman from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government discusses this divide here.

What we have is a compensatory system, a well-maintained welfare state that subsidizes poverty rather than addressing the problems at its roots. While well-intentioned, programs that throw $40 or $150 here and there at families in need may help temporarily, but they hardly speak to the deeper problems of servitude and cheap labor which keep people from moving up in their careers. State-sponsored charity will not help families in the long run. It will not help the children in these families who are growing up in poverty, in schools where many of their peers are in the same situation, in communities marred by poverty and desperation.

What we need is comprehensive wage reform where all jobs pay a living wage - $10 an hour with benefits or $12 an hour without benefits - and in doing this, families can become financially independent, care for their children, plan for the future and not have to make difficult choices about which bills to pay this month and which to put off until next month.

For more about safety nets and who picks up the pieces when lives fall apart because of sporadic or underpaying and precarious employment, read The Missing Class.

The following is my favorite passage from the book:

Those of us who want women to be able to stand on their own feet do not like to hear that the children the women leave behind during the workday may be doomed to repeat the lives of their poor mothers. But in a world where high-quality child care is available only to the wealthy or the lucky, a child's prospects can be irreparably damaged if her mother disappears for many hours every day, leaving her in the care of someone who lets drug addicts into the house. What matters more, the mother's shot at present-day security or the next generation's potential for future success? At the moment, we may be addressing the problems of the parents, only to see a "sacrificed generation" emerge, a cohort of children condemned by poor schooling or entanglement in the criminal justice system to a life not unlike the one their parents were running hard to escape (p177).

05 May 2008

Libraries make cities stronger

According to a report published in January 2007 by the Urban Libraries Council, libraries are one of the most important threads in the social fabric of communities, especially supporting the development of early literacy skills and childhood education.

One of the things we know best is that what happens early on matters most later in life. A report from the University of Chicago shows that early investments prove to be the most socially and fiscally beneficial:

Public libraries have four key strategies for building early literacy:
  1. Public education campaigns
  2. Parental training workshops
  3. Tailored technical assistance for childcare and other children's service agencies
  4. Implement model literacy programs
The report from the Urban Libraries Council gives several good examples of early childhood literacy programs that have shown positive results.

The Brooklyn Public Library targets "parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers" with multilingual flyers about library programs. They also give new infant goody bags to hospitals that include applications for library cards to help new parents get oriented towards early literacy experiences for their babies.

The Providence Public Library has an initiative called "Cradle to Crayons" which is a "free nine-week program (that) focuses on literacy development of children ages 1-3."

The program has three key components: First, it is designed to introduce young families to the library in a comfortable setting and to develop early literacy skills through songs, rhymes, storytelling and play. Library staff members offer tips that can be used at home to encourage an early interest in reading and learning. Second, it invites local child service agencies to share information on child development, health and safety. Third, it provides Learning and Reading (LARK) Kits that contain ten books, music and visual aids that that parents can check out from the library and use at home with their children.

Public libraries contribute to an overall community sense of well-being and long-term development, starting at the earliest ages through adulthood, reaching the youngest children and their parents and the adults who surround and nurture them in the community.

Given what we know about the role libraries play in promoting early literacy experiences and the positive benefits children and communities reap from this investment, we as a community in Memphis and Shelby County should take a very close look at the role our own libraries play, and the potential they show for encouraging young readers to embark on a literacy journey that will last a lifetime.

22 April 2008

Why does no one ever comment on our blog?

The earliest intervention is reading at home to children before they reach Kindergarten

From the Associated Press today: When her son Dylan was just 6 years old, Kristen Wahlmeier noticed that he had to be bribed to read: A surfing trip here or a pair of new shoes there before he'd pick up a book. Worried as she watched him struggle, a gnawing fear crept into her stomach: Her only son, with big blue eyes and the jones for Star Wars, might be headed for a special education classroom. Instead, teachers at his suburban Portland school intervened immediately, putting him into extra reading and vocabulary tutoring every day before school. It paid off. Now, officials in districts across the country are rapidly adopting similar early intervention programs, hoping that steering a child away from expensive special education classes later will pay off for them, too, in cost savings.

The Center for Urban Child Policy released a policy brief earlier this year about literacy rates in Memphis and Shelby County among low-income parents. Among our findings were that low-income parents do many things right when it comes to preparing their children for school - and a lifetime love of reading - like telling stories, singing songs, playing games and counting numbers. These "in-kind" pre-literacy activities are very important to children's developing minds. However, when it comes to the most important pre-literacy activity - reading to children - low-income parents in Shelby County lag far behind parents nationwide.

More from the AP: Traditionally, children haven't been identified for special education until third or fourth grade. They end up costing roughly twice as much, or about $12,000 a year, to educate an average student, including about $11 billion in federal dollars every year.

These findings fit nicely with a very troublesome headline in today's Commercial Appeal:
City council may cut funding for Memphis City Schools

The Memphis City Council is considering withholding some or all of the $93.5 million requested by the city school district, a controversial move that could provide city residents with a tax break instead of a tax hike.

This triad of issues - Special Education, Early Literacy and School Funding - are critically important to see as inter-related in our community. Fourth-grade reading scores are both evidence of the past and a window to the future: they are evidence of early literacy experiences and predictors of future experiences. (Prison analysts use 4th grade reading scores to determine projected prison populations...)
  • 1 in 7 students (14%) are categorized as Students With Disabilities.
  • 4 in 5 students (82%) are categorized as Economically Disadvantaged
  • 1 in 3 people in Shelby County are functionally illiterate - meaning they have difficulty reading street signs, newspaper headlines, prescriptions and job applications
Too few parents and young children are reading together regularly. Too many children have learning difficulties which are costly for them and for us, the taxpayers. Too often, children are the last priority of policymaking and the first to be considered for budget cuts.

Things we can do that will help:
  1. Invest in early literacy experiences for children. Access to Books from Birth, access to public libraries and to quality time spent reading with parents and caregivers is critical to initiate a love of reading.
  2. Help parents read to their children. Parents may be insecure about their reading ability. The Memphis Literacy Council can give parents with difficulty reading tools to improve their skills and quality time with their kids and books.
  3. Understand the connections between poverty/low-income status, learning disabilities and school finance. Short-sighted budget cuts that affect children will not improve the quality of our city now nor in the future. What gets cut now, we will all have to pay for later.
  4. Make children a priority from the start - not an afterthought at the end.

19 April 2008

The SCHIP Saga Continues

Uninsured children may still have a chance under SCHIP, the public health insurance program that is jointly financed by federal and state governments.

According to a New York Times report today:

The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states’ ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, and its new policy is therefore unenforceable, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said Friday.

Under the Aug. 17 directive, states cannot expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover youngsters with family incomes over 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four) unless they can prove that they already cover 95 percent of eligible children below twice the poverty level ($42,400).

Moreover, in such states, children who lose or drop private coverage must be uninsured for 12 months before they can enroll in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and co-payments in the public program must be similar to those in private plans.

Moreover, now while the debate has been revived, the public should weigh in on the appellation SCHIP to reframe the issue in such a way that it is an undeniable children's rights issue. S-CHIP as it stands sounds like a computer or technical problem, akin to the Y2K frenzy, not an issue of utmost importance pertaining to the rights of children to medical care.

The name SCHIP gives no indication that the bill is fundamentally about protecting children by assuring that they have access to quality health care, that they have a reliable medical home, that they have a well-coordinated team of health care providers and reliable adults overseeing their medical well-being. This name does not invoke public sentiments of empathy and protection as it should. Other states - like Minnesota's Badger Care or Tennessee's TennderCare - are catchy and sticky.

Some suggestions (others welcome):
The Defense of Children's Health Act
Protecting Children's Health Act
Health Coverage for Children Act

18 April 2008

The working poor

The New York Times is reporting today on the effect of the economic downturn on America's working poor - the bootstraps folks who are self-employed, the entrepreneurs who teach music lessons and do handiwork, the fabric of the country who work for themselves and who hold jobs that once gave them ample overtime hours that gave their family a cushion of income, a buffer that gave them a sense of security which is eroding paycheck by paycheck.

Says the New York Times, "The gradual erosion of the paycheck has become a stealth force driving the American economic downturn. Most of the attention has focused on the loss of jobs and the risk of layoffs. But the less-noticeable shrinking of hours and pay for millions of workers around the country appears to be a bigger contributor to the decline, which has already spread from housing and finance to other important areas of the economy."

One woman's monthly income has decreased by one-quarter - while she once could depend on $600 per week, she now makes do on $450 per week. Trips to the store are rationed. Families visit parks instead of museums. Parents take their children to thrift stores instead of the mall. (Heck, I'm shopping at ICB on Jefferson these days...) This decline has brought her salary from $31,000 to $23,000 - where once she was middle-income, she is now considered low-income, a phenomenon described in The Missing Class, a book about America's near poor.

According to the February 2008 Tennessee Labor Report, 20,000 people in Memphis City are unemployed (6.7%) - and this might be a conservative figure given that this only measures people who have actively sought work in the past few weeks. What about other people who have given up looking for work?

People who could once make it on one income are now taking part-time jobs to supplement what they've lost in earnings. This means more children spend less time with their parents, more families are stressed by financial worries, more families have fewer buffer resources to fall back on in case of emergencies or special occasions - a sick child, a flat tire or a prom.

17 April 2008

New Calculator Factors Chances for Very Premature Infants

One of the most difficult questions about the survival of premature babies is how to best help them. Babies are now able to survive life outside the womb much earlier than before because of advances in medicine about how to best treat neonates. And now, doctors and researchers have come up with a formula for determining a baby's chances for survival and potential complications later in life.

The New York Times reports today that the new method uses an online calculator developed for such cases factoring in traits like birth weight and sex as well as gestational age and whether or not the baby was a multiple birth. (Incidentally, baby girls born early have a better chance for survival than do boys.)

In theory, at least, the calculator would seem to favor treating girls, because, all else being equal, their odds for survival are better.

From the New York Times article: The study included 4,446 infants born at 22 to 25 weeks at 19 hospitals in the Neonatal Research Network; 744, generally the smallest and most premature, did not receive intensive care, and all died. The babies were assessed at birth, and the survivors were examined again shortly before turning 2. Over all, half the infants died, half the survivors had neurological impairments, and half the impairments were severe. Many survivors spent months in the hospital, at a typical cost of $3,400 a day. The researchers estimated that if all babies born at 22 to 23 weeks received intensive care, for every 100 infants treated there would be 1,749 extra hospital days and zero to nine additional survivors, with zero to three having no impairment.

What is most compelling about this study is that based on this data, researchers are able to make projections about what kind of future these children will face, and what the social cost will be to care for them long-term, not only medically, but educationally as well. We know that low birth weight children face many more educational obstacles and often need special attention in school, and that students with disabilities - including those with Individualized Educational Plans - cost the school system and community more.

These problems are especially relevant for our community since Memphis has an exceptionally high rate of low birthweight babies and infant mortality - a well-known problem that was publicized in a Commercial Appeal article in 2005.

One of the researchers - Dr. Nehal Parikh - said the following about how the new formula will help parents decide what is the best treatment option for their child: “We lay out the facts, rather than our own opinions,” Dr. Parikh said, “because we’re not the ones taking these babies home.” This is only partly true. The choice of treatment for a child is an individual decision, but the implications for society are far-reaching, especially considering the care and cost associated with children with disabilities throughout their lifetimes - not only the family's personal cost but society's investment in their future.

An element of forward thinking which is not covered in the article is the root causes of pre-term births, low birth weight and infant mortality. Prenatal care - including access to and use of health care and routine doctor's visits - and proper nutrition are essential to growing and delivering healthy babies, and the community at large must take a more proactive role in promoting healthy pregnancies.

We need to intervene in the lives of the children before they are delivered early, and before we have to make the decision whether 22 weeks or 23 weeks is a viable gestational age for a child. We need to intervene in the lives of the children in utero - investing in the mothers and assuring that they have routine, quality, available medical care and proper nutrition so that their babies are healthy from the start.

The Child Well-Being Data Book written and published by The Urban Child Institute has more information about the health conditions of infants and children in Memphis and Shelby County.

14 April 2008

New report from "Every Child Matters" on key geographic differences in child well-being

Every Child Matters has issued a new report, Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States, which shows wide gaps in key indicators of child well-being from state to state.

The report:
* Describes critical components of the 'grid of opportunity' that needs to be intact in order to support the well-being of children and families, and makes clear that for too many children, that grid has broken down.
* Supports the idea that the well-being of children is a 'path dependent' process. In other words, the start kids get in life sets them on the path that will take them to school and will prepare them for life.
* Supports the idea that the best way to insure the well-being of families and communities later on is to invest in the well-being of young children today.
* Focuses on the critical relationship between the environment in which children are raised and their well-being in school and life. As recent studies suggest, for example, children living in high crime neighborhoods can be a full year behind their peers when they reach school.

Among the key findings of the report:
Children in the lowest ranked states for each indicator are:
• Twice as likely to die in their first year as children inthe highest ranked state.
• Three times more likely to die between the ages of 1-14.
•Roughly three times more likely to die between the ages of 15-19.
• Three times more likely to be born to a teenage mother.• Five times more likely to have mothers who received late or no prenatal care.
• Three times more likely to live in poverty.
• Five times more likely to be uninsured.
• Eight times more likely to be incarcerated.
• Thirteen times more likely to die from abuse and neglect.

31 March 2008

Cloth diapers are (mostly) more environmentally-friendly than Pampers or Huggies

According to the Green Lantern - Slate's go-to-guy for environmental questions - cloth diapers are more environmentally-friendly than are plastic disposable diapers, so long as you clean the reusable diapers in an energy-efficient washing machine.

From the article:

The bottom line is that cloth diapers are greener than run-of-the-mill Pampers and Huggies, as long as you're committed to an energy-efficient laundry regimen. But that commitment takes more than just an EnergyStar washing machine and a clothing line for air drying. It also takes time, a commodity which will be in startlingly short supply once your offspring drops. And thus we must delve into the ceaseless conflict between idealism and reality.

Here is where you can learn more about the cloth-plastic diaper debate!

20 March 2008

The (Lack of) Marriage Phenomenon

Emily Yoffe, the snarky writer who does the "Dear Prudence" column at Slate, has written today about the increasing phenomenon of births to single mothers. Two things I find quite interesting in this article: first is the ample anecdotal evidence that woman after woman expresses the desire to marry the father of their children, but it is the fathers who balk at marriage - preferring to sidle up to other women and sire other children without making a commitment to the (other) mother(s) of their children; second is that only 23% of single-mother births occur to teens - the growing number of single-mother births are to women aged 25-29. Twenty-three percent is nothing to sneeze at, but it seems like there is a distinctly different phenomenon happening here.

The cultural question - that in the post-modern age marriage is passe and single parenthood acceptable - is an interesting one. Having children outside of wedlock clearly does not have the stigma that it did fifty years ago, but the argument that children in fragile families increases social stratification and disparity between the poor and non-poor is one that could gain traction. In essence, how do we talk about the culture of non-marriage and the culture of inequality - and what's the right tack to take in alleviating child poverty, like creating structural conditions that make child-rearing (no matter what kind of family a child is born into) more friendly through policies informed by best practice that are sound investments and make sense in the short and long-term.

The moral of the story throughout all the various narratives - including the references below - is that children born to single parents face many more difficulties in life because of the precariousness that accompanies single parenthood, most importantly poverty.

Among the references included in the article are:

No Ground Floor For Reporting Graduation Rates: Why It Matters for Memphis and Shelby County

Today's New York Times is reporting on a story that I have long held to be an incredibly important one, not just for the country but especially for our local community.

Graduation rates are in essence a way to measure how well we've done from pre-Kindergarten forward educating a new generation of workers, parents, consumers and citizens. Telling the truth about graduation rates - and about proficiency on state and national standardized tests - is incredibly important for assessing the current and future conditions in our society - that is to say, how will these young people contribute? Are they likely to continue with their education? To become young and single parents or to delay parenthood? To get and keep well-paying jobs? To move out of Shelby County or to stay local?

7 in 10 students graduate on time from Memphis City Schools. 8 in 10 students graduate on time from Shelby County Schools. 9 in 10 students graduate on time in Tennessee. (TN Department of Education, 2007) According to the TCAP, 8 in 10 students are proficient in Reading and Math in Memphis and Shelby County - but according to the NAEP, only 1 in 4 are considered proficient. (Fortunately for Tennessee, the TCAP is used to determine compliance with No Child Left Behind - if the NAEP were used, we'd be in big trouble, as would many other states!)

From the New York Times article (commentary in italics):
  • The law also allowed states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Many set them low. Nevada, for instance, pledged to get just 50 percent of its students to graduate on time. And since the law required no annual measures of progress, California proposed that even a one-tenth of 1 percent annual improvement in its graduation rate should suffice. States are not required to use a uniform formula for reporting graduation rates, so there is no standard - no ground floor - for comparing achievement nationwide. Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education, has encouraged the U.S. Congress to pass a law requiring states to use a standardized, universal and uniform method to report graduation rates. We need to encourage this endeavor.
  • Most troublesome to some experts was the way the No Child law's mandate to bring students to proficiency on tests, coupled with its lack of a requirement that they graduate, created a perverse incentive to push students to drop out. If low-achieving students leave school early, a school's performance can rise. In the push toward proficiency, we have lowered standards to make them more easily achievable by more students, giving the false appearance of "success" while cheating students - and ourselves and future generations - in the process.
  • The law also allowed states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Many set them low. Nevada, for instance, pledged to get just 50 percent of its students to graduate on time. And since the law required no annual measures of progress, California proposed that even a one-tenth of 1 percent annual improvement in its graduation rate should suffice. With more than 13,000 public school districts across the country - taking into consideration states' rights to set their own educational standards and the federal government's desire to provide oversight and promote achievement nationwide - there is an inherent tension between state and federal mandates. And unfortunately, a generation of students is getting lost in the process.
  • Most troublesome to some experts was the way the No Child law's mandate to bring students to proficiency on tests, coupled with its lack of a requirement that they graduate, created a perverse incentive to push students to drop out. If low-achieving students leave school early, a school's performance can rise. Tennessee is taking steps toward dealing with the graduation rate crisis by eliminating the Gateway exam as an obstacle to completing high school. Instead it will be replaced during the 2009-2010 school year by end-of-course exams in content subject areas and calculated as a part of the student's final grade. However, changing the test does not imply fixing the system. More students graduating - the same as more students earning scores of proficient - does not indicate that they are prepared for further education or the workforce.
It used to be that a person could succeed in life in the U.S. with only a high school diploma, but this is not the case anymore. A higher education degree - Associate's or Bachelor's degree - is the new high school diploma. In conclusion, it is imperative that we keep a watchful eye on both graduation rates and achievement scores.

07 March 2008

Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America's Children

Paying the Price.
This February 2008 study -- conducted by The Urban Institute and funded by the National Council of La Raza -- documents the impact of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worksite raids on the children of undocumented workers. The findings indicate that the children of those arrested in the raids experienced family separation, economic hardship, schooling interruptions, and mental trauma.

The findings are based on a study of three communities that experienced large-scale worksite raids in 2007: Greeley, Colorado; Grand Island, Nebraska; and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Over 900 adults were arrested in the three study sites, and the parents among them collectively had over 500 children. In two of the sites, 79 percent and 88 percent of children were ages ten and younger. In one site, more than half of the children were ages five and younger.

05 March 2008

First in the Family: Advice About College from First-Generation Students

For two years, Next Generation Press/What Kids Can Do has been gathering the wisdom of first-generation college students on the critical issues of college access and success. The result is a growing collection of resources by and for first-generation students. (Created with support from the Lumina Foundation.)

To learn more, visit: First in the Family

More than 100 Cities Helping Families Claim Earned Income Tax Credit

by Sarah Bainton Kahn

As families throughout the country file their tax returns, city leaders are hosting campaign kickoff events to alert low-income working families about their eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Local elected officials in more than 100 cities and towns are taking part in these campaigns, in partnership with coalitions composed of local United Way of America organizations, financial institutions and other businesses, universities, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), chambers of commerce and nonprofit community organizations. Campaign kickoff events have included news conferences, announcement of new services and products, and speeches by local officials.

About the EITC
The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit that benefits low-income working families and also brings federal dollars back into the community. Often cited as the nation’s most effective federal anti-poverty program, the IRS estimates that EITC returns brought $30.4 billion to more than 19 million families in 2007. For a family of four, taxpayers must earn less than $39,783 to claim the EITC, and the maximum refund would be $4,716.

In addition to raising awareness about the EITC, outreach campaigns inform residents about free tax preparation services, such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. City officials can be instrumental in offering space for VITA sites, recruiting tax preparation volunteers and increasing the visibility of campaign efforts.

19 February 2008

The Family: America's Smallest School ~ Some findings concerning family structure in the U.S.

A recent report written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley and published by the Educational Testing Service evaluates a number of key factors influencing the well-being of students in America. Their findings are particularly relevant to conversations occurring across the country today concerning the relationship between parenting alone and poverty, and the affect of these aspects of family and home life on child well-being and success in school and through life.

The Barton and Coley discussion is particularly helpful in placing rates of single-parenting in a cross-city, cross-national, and historical context.

The following discussion is drawn from pages 10-13 of the report: The Family: America’s Smallest School 2007. Princeton NJ: ETS.

Number of Parents in the Home

What is the trend for children living in two-parent families in the United States? In the nation as a whole in 2004, 68 percent of children were living with both parents, down from 77 percent in 1980. There were substantial declines among the White, Black, and Hispanic populations of children with two parents in the home over that period. The lowest percentage of children living with two parents was among Black children — just 42 percent in 1980, dropping to 35 percent in 2004. Thus, the majority of Black children live in single-parent homes.

The variation among the states in the percentage of single-parent families is considerable, The low is 17 percent in Utah, while South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana have percentages
of 40 or higher.

There is also marked variation between large cities. San Diego and Austin had the lowest percentages of children in one-parent families, although about one-third of families fall into this category. Atlanta and Cleveland had the highest percentages of single-parent families, with about two-thirds of the cities’ families falling into this category.

International comparisons are also available, although there are variations in the years for which data are available. In comparison with nine other countries where data were available, the United States had the highest percentage of one-parent families (28 percent) and Japan the lowest (8 percent). There were substantial increases in all countries in this statistic for the time periods available. In addition, for most of the countries included in this comparison, about one-fifth of families with children were single-parent families. It is clear that the phenomenon of a rising rate of children living with one parent is by no means confined to the United States.

10 New Ideas for Early Education in the NCLB Reauthorization

On the Foundation for Child Development's Early Education Blog, Sara Mead of the New America Foundation offers ten excellent suggestions for improving support for Early Education in the NCLB Reauthorization. Her ideas include:

  1. Allow Reading First funds to be used for pre-k language and literacy activities.
  2. Tap supplemental educational services and public school choice set-aside funds for high-quality Prekindergarten.
  3. Improve accountability for early education programs.
  4. Restructure elementary schools identified for reconstitution as PK-3 Early Education Academies.
  5. Strengthen the ability of charter schools to deliver high-quality Prekindergarten.
  6. Combine NCLB's Title V block grant program with Head Start's newly authorized state early childhood coordination initiative to create a single "2020 Early Education" state grant program.
  7. Require pre-k programs operated in public schools or with Title I funds to employ "highly qualified early educators" as lead teachers.
  8. Create a "Pathways to Pre-kindergarten Teaching" alternative certification demonstration program.
  9. Provide targeted professional development to individual teachers.
  10. Expand the representation of English Language Learners in Prekindergarten programs.

18 February 2008

Poverty and Brain Development

On Saturday, the Financial Times reported the following: "Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain." Family stresses over finances and daily living contribute to the under-development of the critical neural networks for children even before they are born.

Martha Farah - who directs University of Pennsylvania's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience - said, "The biggest effects are on language and memory. The finding about memory impairment - the ability to encounter a pattern and remember it - really surprised us."

We know that the bulk (80%) of brain development occurs between birth and age three. How the brain is hardwired in utero and in early toddlerhood sets the stage for what happens later in life. Interventions that target very young children, and especially those in poverty, can help to offset the negative influences that poverty brings in a child's life. Children in poverty are more likely to live near and interact with other children facing the same challenges - places called areas of concentrated poverty. They are also more likely to attend school with other students who are Economically Disadvantaged (i.e. eligible for Free and Reduced Price Lunches).

A New York Times op-ed by Paul Krugman amplifies these sentiments: "Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child's brain."

Not only is it the neural networks but the social networks that matter to a child's development. The more social networks - the social safety net - the better the chances are that a child will grow up in a safe, nurturing environment. The more neural networks, the better the brain functions in the long run. When it comes to brain development, more IS better.

There are three important things to remember about interventions which target children facing poverty:
  1. Proven programs work. Head Start has had tremendous success in giving disadvantaged children a lift. Early Head Start - the program which works with pregnant moms and children until their third birthday - is a tremendous asset to children and families in poverty.
  2. Every little bit helps. Talking to your child more. Looking your child in the eyes. Using more words (5-word sentences are best). Reading to and with your children. All these things contribute to gains that last over a lifetime.
  3. The effects of specific programs and interventions as well as what happens every day at home and in the community to alleviate the effects of poverty are cumulative.

15 February 2008

how Individual Risk Factors Affect Absenteeism in Early Schooling

In their publication: "How Maternal, Family and Cumulative Risk Affect Absenteeism in Early Schooling," the National Center for Children in Poverty reports that for every affluent kindergartner - living at or above 400% of the federal poverty - who experienced each of the following risks:
  • 30 poor children experienced food insecurity at home
  • 20 had a mother with low education
  • 15 had an unemployed mother
  • 9 were born to a teenage mother
  • 7 lived with a single mother
  • 6 had a mother with poor health and
  • 5 lived in a family with four or more children.

National Center for Children in Poverty reports on the profile of young children in Tennessee

The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that "state policies that promote health, education and strong families can help the early development and school readiness of America's youngest citizens." How do young children and their families fare in Tennessee?
  • The Center reports that 42% of children in the state are living in poor and low income families.
  • As of 2006, 45% of children in the state were exposed to multiple risk factors - including single parent families, living in poverty, parents do not speak English well, have less than a high school education, and parents have no paid employment. One third of the children in this group were exposed to 3 or more of these risk factors.

How effective are public policies for children in Tennessee?

  • The state health insurance program - CoverKids - covers infants up to 185% of the poverty line, and kids 1 to 5 up to 133% of poverty.
  • Tennessee allows families earning up to 168% of poverty to request a child care subsidy.
  • Tennessee is in the process of expanding access to public prekindergarten.

14 February 2008

The Missing Class in Memphis

The National Center for Children in Poverty says that 100% of the federal poverty level is an inaccurate measure of poverty - that actually it's closer to twice that, or 200% FPL. "The Missing Class" looks at the group of folks between 100-200% FPL as equally fragile families who are one paycheck from disaster.

There is already consensus in classifying children living at or below 200% FPL as "vulnerable" and our assessment as such is supported by the fact that children up to 185% FPL are eligible for free and reduced price lunches in schools. But based on her definition of the poor and the near-poor, she doesn't find much distinction - they live in the same neighborhoods and face many of the same issues together. The difference between who makes it to the next level, who has financial success and achievement and makes it beyond poor or near-poor, is often determined by whether or not there are viable childcare options...

The Missing Class
by Eyal Press

Sociologist Katherine Newman is best known for her richly documented, fine-grained portraits of the working poor. In books such as No Shame in My Game and Chutes and Ladders, she has chronicled the experiences of low-wage workers struggling against formidable odds to lift themselves out of poverty. Unlike many economists, Newman focuses less on statistics than on the barriers and opportunities people encounter in their daily lives, shedding light on the fault lines of the nation's class divide through intimate accounts of families and neighborhoods. In her forthcoming book, The Missing Class, written with Victor Tan Chen, Newman has turned her attention to the travails of the "near poor," a vast pool of workers who are neither officially destitute nor comfortably middle class. Recently, Nation contributing writer Eyal Press caught up with her at her home in Manhattan.

Who are the "near poor"?

The near poor are people with household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 a year for a family of four, or 100 to 200 percent of the poverty line. And there are actually almost twice as many of them as there are people under the poverty line--57 million in the US. They represent, on the one hand, an improvement, forward motion, the promise of upward mobility. But their lives are not stable. They truly are one paycheck, one lost job, one divorce or one sick child away from falling below the poverty line.

Are the members of this class in a more precarious situation today than, say, ten or twenty years ago?

More precarious than in the late 1990s, yes, but not twenty years ago. The reason is that we had this golden period between about 1997 and 2002, when we had record low unemployment, high growth, low inflation, and that's part of what propelled these people forward--employers were looking for more of them, and opportunities opened up. That's less the case today.

What kinds of neighborhoods do the people you're describing live in?

Like the poor, the near poor tend to live in places that have serious problems of infestation--rodents, cockroaches--which means they have very high rates of asthma, childhood asthma in particular, and high rates of lead exposure, since their apartment buildings are older. They are also in neighborhoods with fewer consumer options, places not well served by the big chain stores that have the lowest prices. So basically the poor and the near poor are soaked--everything they buy is more expensive than it should be. It's like a huge tax on them, and there are also health consequences--your access to a decent diet is compromised; it's harder to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Problems like obesity are very pronounced in this population. But the neighborhoods of the near poor are less segregated and have a more diverse income mix than those of the "real" poor.

You call this a "missing class." Is it missing from the consciousness of Republicans or Democrats?

Pretty much both. John Edwards wrote the foreword to this book, so it's on his radar screen, but I haven't heard anybody else talk about these people, neither Republicans nor Democrats. I don't think the political parties reach out to them very much.

Yet I take it that what happens in Washington does have an impact on their lives.

Some of the policies set in motion over the past decade have had a particularly pronounced effect on the near poor. For example, welfare reform propelled a lot of people into the labor market. Meanwhile, No Child Left Behind created a system of high-stakes tests for kids in the public school system. Nobody was thinking about what these two policies would mean when they collided behind the closed doors of a family. But in a family, these things are colliding all the time: the demand placed on parents to be in the labor market and the demand placed on kids to pass those high-stakes tests, which they're far less likely to do if parents aren't around to take them to the library, read to them, look over their homework. There are stories in the book about mothers who had been able to go to their kids' schools, couldn't go anymore, didn't realize they were falling off the deep end, and then that kid ends up on Rikers Island.

Is there more, or less, awareness today of the challenges facing the working poor than when you began your research?

There's greater recognition now that we actually have a population called the working poor. I think that attempts to beat back some of the more successful policy innovations, like the earned-income tax credit, have failed in part because there's recognition that these people exist, that they should be supported and that we need to do something about their health insurance. What I don't see is much attention to fostering mobility out of working poverty. We seem to feel that as long as we've taken people off public assistance, our job is done. But it isn't done--it isn't good enough in a country as wealthy as this to replace welfare-dependent poverty with working poverty.

Yet welfare reform has not led to the disaster some people predicted. Haven't those who feared this, including yourself, been proven wrong?

What I didn't anticipate, and I don't think anyone anticipated, was that in the late '90s we would have really tight labor markets, a roaring economy, very high growth, very low inflation. We basically had the opposite of a perfect storm--we had perfect weather, and that provided a lot of mobility opportunity even for the people I study. But welfare reform won't receive its real test until we see a big recession and we can see what happens to people without any safety net beneath that. We haven't seen that, so it's not easy to know what it would mean.

In your previous book, Chutes and Ladders, you told the stories of two groups: the "high flyers," who succeeded in climbing out of poverty, and the "low riders," who didn't. What was the main difference between them?

For the most part the difference is explained not by their desire for upward mobility but by their family circumstances. Everybody wants a better job and everybody is willing to work for it. But women who had children and no one to help them with those kids were much more likely to get trapped--they couldn't get more education, which limited their job options; their contact with the labor market was more fragile and episodic. Whereas the people who could afford childcare or who worked out elaborate arrangements with extended family members were able to stay on the job, get more training and move upward.

That sounds like an answer conservatives would love--it's all about family.

But when we say it's about family, we're really talking about the burdens people face in simultaneously trying to combine family responsibilities with the demands of the labor market. And we don't make it easy for them to do that. In Italy, you have access to full-time, high-quality childcare from the time your child is an infant. Similarly in France. A lot of families I studied who didn't make it out of poverty were the ones where the childcare options were so dangerous they couldn't leave their kids, so they ended up dropping out of the labor market, which isn't good for them or for their children. I don't think conservatives have much of an answer to this. The only answer I hear them giving is that poor people shouldn't have children at all.

If you could take the platform of the Democratic candidate for President and insert three provisions for the missing class into it, what would they be?

Universal, high-quality, early-childhood education would be very high on my list, because the more we can do for kids when they start out to level the playing field, the better off the whole country will be in the long run. Universal healthcare would be hugely important, not only because of its health consequences but because it frees up income for other things. And opening up and maintaining access to higher education, because the people on the losing end of this economy are the poorly educated. Instead, I fear we're going in the opposite direction--we're seeing increases in public higher-education tuition, which will make it very hard for new generations to succeed.

Quality Early Education and Poverty

From the first article, from Education Week: Families up to 130% FPL are being allowed to register for head start if those at the 100% level are already being served by the program. This is interesting and exciting because it gives credence to "the missing class" - those children and families between 100-200% FPL who are still struggling but often excluded from programs because the earn too much.

This is important because these families are in dire need and have traditionally been excluded from conventional thinking on poverty and excluded from programs which serve only those below poverty.

From the second article, an editorial from USA Today: quality early experiences matter for all children. children in families below poverty are eligible for head start. affluent children generally have private day care. those in the middle - the missing class, again - are the ones falling through the cracks.

This is also important because in our discussions about economic downturns and budget crises, it is critical that we prioritize programs and ideas that not only benefit children today, but which are forward thinking, begin with the end in mind and yield a positive social and economic return in the future.

Head Start Group Decries Renewal's 'Broken Promises'

Just last month, Head Start supporters were celebrating the passage of a five-year reauthorization billRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader they say will strengthen the 43-year-old preschool program for poor children.

Now, the same advocates are lamenting what they're calling "broken promises" from the Bush administration over funding for the program, and saying they've been "saddled" with loads of new requirements in the reauthorization.

The $6.8 billion program, which serves close to 1 million children, is actually underfunded by $1 billion because spending on the program has remained flat for six years and its budget was cut by more $10 million in the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that passed Congress in December, according to the National Head Start Association. The Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group represents Head Start families and staff members of local programs.

"That is what put us on a path to real crisis," Ron Herndon, the chairman of the NHSA board, said during a telephone press conference last week.

The renewed Head Start law, signed by President Bush on Dec. 12, authorizes $7.35 billion in spending for fiscal 2008 and $7.65 billion in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1. But when he signed the legislation, the president made clear he was not supporting such amounts.

"Approval of this legislation is not an endorsement of these funding levels or a commitment to request them," Mr. Bush said.

The reauthorized law also requires that more teachers in the program earn bachelor's degrees, strengthens accountability measures for grantees, and eliminates the controversial National Reporting System—a series of tests to track Head Start children's skills. ("Head Start Measure Expected to Launch New Era for Program," Nov. 28, 2007.)

Despite signing the bill, President Bush has also maintained his support for the assessment program.

The revised law raises family-income eligibility levels for Head Start, allowing children living in families earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level—or $26,800 for a family of four—to be enrolled if those at the 100 percent level are already being served.

Our view on Early education: Pre-K programs pay off

'Universal preschool' raises learning, lowers social costs.

Oklahoma enjoys a popular image as a state of wildcatters, hardscrabble farmers and rodeo riders. So it might come as something of a surprise to learn that national organizations rate the state as tops in the USA in — preschool.

Oklahoma offers "universal" preschool, which means that parents of all incomes have the option of sending their 4-year-olds to a state-sponsored preschool, transportation included. The state also insists that all preschool teachers hold bachelor's degrees, and they are paid the same as regular school teachers.

States have good reasons to aspire to universal preschool, especially high-quality programs with good teachers and low student-to-teacher ratios. Universal preschool can help fill a void: Poor families have access to Head Start. Well-to-do families pay for quality preschools out of their pockets. In between are lower-middle class families whose children badly need the readiness skills that preschool provides.

Oklahoma educators credit their decade-old preschool program with pushing up reading and math scores in the lower grades, and with raising achievement by low-income children.

Elite preschools — such as the experimental Perry Preschool in Michigan, where researchers followed the poor and minority children who attended that school well into adulthood — return more than $16 to society (in the form of lower crime and higher employment) for every dollar invested, according to the non-profit High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Even decent-quality preschools produce gains in the $4 to $10 range, other researchers found.

States pay a price, however, for pushing too fast for universal systems.

Florida rushed its preschool system out the door with seemingly little attention to setting standards. Florida cosmetologists face stiffer licensing than preschool teachers, and preschool operators there are free to pursue a choose-your-own-curriculum policy.

Making Florida's preschool program more worrisome is the low funding. Among the 38 states that underwrite preschool, Florida ranks 35th. Universal preschool is a great idea that can turn bad when implementation outstrips the money.

Preschool classrooms with too many children and too few teachers have surprisingly high expulsion rates, researchers reported earlier this month. The ratio in preschools shouldn't rise above 10 students for each teacher, they recommended.

Most states are proceeding with appropriate caution. Virginia recently scaled back its ambitious universal preschool plans when its state budget veered toward deficit. Alabama set high standards for its preschool program but is starting slowly, fearful of compromising quality.

Several of the 2008 presidential candidates have embraced the concept of universal preschool, generally without providing much detail. States looking for an effective model can consult officials in Oklahoma. They did it Sooner.

13 February 2008

Student Mobility and Likelihood of Dropping Out

The Rumberger & Larson (1998) article talks about the connections between student mobility and likelihood of dropping out of school.

This is particularly relevant for Memphis because we have both a highly transient student population (fully 1 in 3 students changes school during the school year for reasons other than grade promotion) as well as a high drop-out rate in MCS.

Highlights from the article (which uses data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey):
  • The study measures academic achievement (grades and test scores), misbehavior and high absenteeism - all factors which predicted whether students changed schools or dropped out. One of the interesting findings in their survey of dropout studies was from a Chicago school district where only 40% of students who changed schools did not change residences - meaning that student mobility was not tied to family mobility. The authors inferred that student mobility was due to behaviors and at the behest of school administrators rather than determined by family location. (Do we have any purchase on this in Memphis and Shelby County?)
  • Students who made even one nonpromotional school change between 8th and 12th grades were twice as likely not to complete school as students who did not change schools.
  • Poor children are more likely to be mobile and have problems in school. Mobility patterns vary by social class; school and residential mobility is higher among more poor children than upper-income children.
  • The most engaged students (those who feel connected to their academic community) remain in their school but the least engaged drop out, and those in-between transfer to another school - although transferring may be a stopover point on the way to dropping out.
  • The conceptual framework for Rumberger and Larson's study follows this path: school mobility is one aspect of educational stability that influences both academic achievement and educational attainment. Students who are educationally stable remain enrolled until completing high school and typically attend one elementary school, one middle or junior high school, and one high school. Changing schools can be positive - as in moving from a poorer to a more affluent school - but others can be detrimental - changing schools because of the inability to get along with others.
  • Students from single and step-parent families are more likely than students from two-parent families to change schools and drop out.
  • Students from urban schools are 50% more likely to drop out than students who attend suburban or rural schools.
  • The effects of moving and changing schools are additive: students who changed schools and moved were much more likely to not complete school or obtain a GED as students who moved but did not change schools or changed schools but did not move.
  • While students who obtain a GED are better off than students who drop out and do not pursue further education, they are also less well off than students who obtain a regular high school diploma.
  • Student mobility is a risk factor - but not a causative factor - for dropping out of school.
What this means for Memphis and Shelby County:
  • Our student population within the City of Memphis is particularly vulnerable because of poverty, urbanity and mobility.
  • We need to better understand how and why students change schools and if they also change residences, especially with students who are moved due to school closures for accountability measures.
  • We also need to understand what effect getting a GED has on our community. A GED is better than nothing, but a high school diploma is better than a GED. How can we better support students completing school?
  • How can we better assess student achievement, academic expectations and educational attainment to determine a path to success for vulnerable students in MCS especially and SCS? How does the suburbanization of our community affect the lifepaths of our students?