In the middle of a hurricane of recent bad news, two hopeful stories shine through. The first is the 2016 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It measures four aspects of children’s lives: economic situation, stability of families and communities, education and health.
“Aided by federal, state and local policies and investments in prevention, a record number of teens have managed to avoid bad choices that could have derailed their future prospects,” the report states. In other words, teenagers today are healthier and better educated than their predecessors. Since 2008, teen birth rates have fallen 40 percent, alcohol and drug abuse has dropped 38 percent, high school graduation rates have increased, and more children have health insurance.
Still, almost a quarter of American children live in poverty and have fewer opportunities for a successful future than their wealthier peers. The Casey Foundation offers several policy suggestions to reverse this trend, including more high-quality pre-K and early childhood services, greater access to affordable higher education, increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income workers and supporting families with young children by providing paid leave.
A second hopeful story is Jack Schneider’s “America’s Not-So-Broken Education System” in The Atlantic. An assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, Schneider argues school reform’s message that public education is a failure is demonstrably false.
“History may reveal broken promises around racial and economic justice,” Schneider writes. “But it does not support the story of a broken educational system. Instead, the long view reveals a far less dramatic truth – that most aspects of public education have gotten better, generation by generation.”
He points out that in the past teachers were not educated about how children learn or how to reach a diverse population. Today’s curriculum choices are also better. In the past students had few advanced math options and spent their time learning Latin and Greek. Girls and minorities were tracked into domestic classes or vocational training.
“The public-education system is undeniably flawed,” Schneider writes. “Yet many of the deepest flaws have been deliberately cultivated.... They are direct consequences of an intentional concentration of privilege. Placing the blame solely on teacher training, or curriculum, or on the design of the high school – alleging ‘brokenness’ – perpetuates the fiction that all schools can be made great without addressing issues of race, class, and power. This is wishful thinking at its most pernicious.
“Critics are right that achievement scores aren’t overwhelmingly impressive and that troubling gaps persist across racial, ethnic, and income groups. Yet scores are up over the past 40 years, and the greatest gains over that period have been made by black and Hispanic students. They’re right that the U. S. finishes well behind exam-oriented countries like Taiwan and Korea on international tests. But scores are roughly on par with countries like Norway, which was named by the United Nations the best place in the world to live; and students from low-poverty states like Massachusetts outscore most of their global peers … Almost half of all American high-school students now head off to college each year – an all time high. And whatever the doom-and-gloom about schools failing to address workforce needs, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. has the strongest economy in the world – by an enormous margin.”
Kay McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Email: email@example.com