Broad Attack Urged To Meet Adolescents' Basic Needs
The nation has neglected the basic needs of its young adolescents, too often scrambling to fix one teenage problem at a time rather than working to prevent them, a report released here last week concludes.
Instead of creating more programs to deal with the problems of teenage pregnancy or drug use, the report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York argues, policymakers need to refocus on broader "generic" ways to prevent such problems in the first place.
The study says families, schools, youth-serving organizations, health-care agencies, and the media have "fallen behind in their vital functions" and must now join to create a "mutually reinforcing system of support" for children ages 10 to 14.
The entire age group is at risk, not just low-income or disadvantaged young adolescents, said Ruby Takanishi, the executive director of the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, which wrote the report.
"Great Transitions: Preparing Adolescents for a New Century" is the final report of the 27-member panel. Created by the Carnegie Corporation in 1986 as a temporary project, the council will disband next year.
Echoes of 'Turning Points'
Although new approaches to meeting young adolescents' needs may require both a redistribution of existing resources and new money from the public and private sectors, it is still a less expensive alternative to paying for public assistance or a prison bed later, Ms. Takanishi said.
She said that message has not gotten through to many lawmakers, in Washington and elsewhere, where spending on social services is under tough scrutiny.
A large part of the "Great Transitions" report is a welfare-prevention strategy, she said.
Given the low levels of literacy among adults on public assistance, Ms. Takanishi said, "my sense is that had they been better educated and had been motivated to be educated, we wouldn't have this problem or we would have less of it."
Echoing the recommendations of a 1989 Carnegie council report, "Turning Points: Preparing Youth for the 21st Century," this study advises that schools for young adolescents be scaled down in size, using schools-within-schools or "houses." Also, they should promote stable relationships between students and their teachers and peers and employ cooperative-learning strategies. Whenever possible, it says, schools should eliminate academic tracking. (See Education Week, June 21, 1989.)
The council also recommends that schools provide students with an understanding of human biology. The report specifically points to the Human Biology Middle Grades curriculum developed at Stanford University. Known as humbio, it is an interdisciplinary curriculum that melds biological science with health instruction.
For example, when students learn about the impact of food and drugs on the circulatory system in science class, their health teacher makes the connection between how lungs function and smoking.
Institutions that serve adolescents, the report says, should also instill in them the skills, knowledge, and values to foster good health and help them avoid sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence. They need to have access to health providers trained for their needs, have medical insurance, and have health facilities on or near school campuses.
To be effective, school health clinics need not offer the more controversial services of providing contraceptives or abortion referrals, said council member Hernancqspell LaFontaine, a professor of education leadership at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
Mr. LaFontaine, a former superintendent of the Hartford, Conn., public schools, said: "School-based clinics may not be a panacea, but it at least offers one more opportunity, a place where they might be able to get advice or counseling."
And while education is important, it is not the sole answer to adolescents' needs, Ms. Takanishi said.
Parents and other adults should stop thinking that adolescence is a time when children need or want less adult supervision and companionship, because the opposite is true, she said.
Indeed, one of the group's recommendations is that parents should be encouraged to become much more engaged in their children's schools.
Schools can welcome volunteers and create parent-education programs.
And employers, both public and private, can pursue more family-friendly policies for workers who are parents with young adolescents.
The council suggested that a discussion should begin about whether parents of young adolescents could receive a child-care tax credit for enrolling their children in high-quality after-school programs.
The council includes in the report the results to date from an evaluation of a middle-grades reform effort based on the "Turning Points" report.
Preliminary data from an evaluation under way 2 wrds, per AP at the University of Illinois suggest that at schools implementing "Turning Points" recommendations, student achievement in reading, language arts, and math has improved significantly.