Excerpts From The C.E.D.'s New Report, ‘Children in Need’

September 09, 1987 12 min read
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Following are excerpts from the executive summary of"Children in Need: Investment Strategies for the Educationally Disadvantaged.” The research and policy panel of the Committee for Economic Development, a nonprofit organization whose trustees represent more than 200 of the nation’s leading corporations and institutions of higher education, produced the document. The bold and italic emphasis is included in the report.

Almost alone among the great nations of the world, the United States cannot be defined in terms of place or race, religion, or ancestry. Instead, our nation is defined by a vision--a dream which welcomes anyone who shares it. Over the years, this dream has crystallized into a commonly-shared belief that every individual in this country has a right to live in freedom, to participate in self-government, and to share equally in the opportunity for personal growth and economic prosperity.

But this vision is now becoming more distant for a growing underclass of Americans condemned by both discrimination and ignorance to only limited participation in mainstream social, political, and economic life.

As a nation, we simply cannot compete and prosper when more than a third of our youths grow up severely undereducated. As a people, we must not continue to squander the lives and abilities of so many of our fellow citizens.

This year, more than one million babies will be born who will never complete their schooling. As they reach adolescence, many will be only marginally literate and virtually unemployable. Poverty and despair will be their constant companions. Too soon in their lives many will have children of their own, thus perpetuating yet another generation mired in ignorance and want.

The nation’s public schools have traditionally offered a common pathway out of poverty and a road to the American Dream. But today, in too many communities, the schools are ill equipped to deal with the many needs of disadvantaged children. We believe that reform strategies for the educationally disadvantaged that focus on the school system alone will continue to fail these “children in need.” We have learned from experience that effective strategies reaching beyond the traditional boundaries of schooling and providing early and sustained intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children can break this vicious cycle of disaffection and despair.

The Critical Early Years

Quality education for all children is not an expense; it is an investment. Failure to educate is the true expense. In addition to improving our schools, investing in the careful nurturing of children from before birth through age 5 will deliver a handsome profit to society and to the individuals and families with so much to gain.

Early intervention is critical because too many children now lack the basic preparation in their earliest years that is critical for later success in school. By denying them the opportunity to learn and grow, we will not only be condemning these children individually but committing a terrible economic and social blunder as well. ...

Each year’s class of dropouts costs the nation more than $240 billion in lost earnings and foregone taxes over their lifetimes. Billions more will be spent on crime control, and on welfare, health care, and other social services. Every $1 spent on early prevention and intervention can save $4.75 in the costs of remedial education, welfare, and crime further down the road. ...

Any plan for major improvements in the development and education of disadvantaged children that does not recognize the need for additional resources is doomed to failure. The price of action may seem high, but the costs of inaction are far higher.

Why Business Cares

Over the past few years, the business community has become deeply involved in education reform. Equity, social justice, and the survival of our political and economic institutions compel us to address the needs of the disadvantaged on a broader scale.

If present trends continue, the scarcity of well-educated and well-qualified people in the workforce will seriously damage this country’s competitive position in an increasingly challenging global marketplace.

Our industries will be unable to grow and compete internationally because a growing educational underclass will lack the necessary skills and work habits to function productively on the job. Moreover, they will lack the levels of literacy needed to make informed choices about their lives or to take part in the political process.

Who Are the Educationally Disadvantaged?

We believe that children are educationally disadvantaged if they cannot take advantage of available educational opportunities or if the educational resources open to them are inherently unequal. Conservative estimates suggest that as much as 30 percent of the school population can be classified as educationally disadvantaged.

Many of these children grow up in a deprived environment that slows their intellectual and social growth. Others may be raised with expectations that are very different from those that predominate in the schools oriented toward middle-class values. Many schools, educators, and policymakers--whether consciously or unconsciously--expect children from poor, minority, or other disadvantaged backgrounds to fail. Too often, such expectations create reality.

Children and Poverty. Some children born into poverty have the family support, the role models, and the determination to succeed in school despite the disadvantages; in fact, education has traditionally provided an escape for many children from poor families. Yet, poverty does correlate closely with school failure, especially where the family is headed by a single parent. Poor students are three times more likely to become dropouts than students from more economically advantaged homes, and schools with higher concentrations of poor students have significantly higher dropout rates than schools with fewer poor children. ...

Children of Children. Children from poor and single-parent households are more likely than others to be children of teen-age parents and to become teen-age parents themselves. By age 5, the children of teen-age parents already run a high risk of later unemployability. Not only do teen-age parents often lack employable skills; they also lack the necessary resources to begin developing their children’s future parenting and employable skills.

Investment StrategiesFor the Educationally Disadvantaged

How should we respond? Clearly, we cannot continue to conduct business as usual. ...

We urge policymakers to consider what we believe to be the three most important investment strategies for improving the prospects of children in need: prevention through early intervention, restructuring the foundations of education, and retention and re-entry.

Prevention Through Early Intervention. The educational problems of disadvantaged children are often obvious long before they begin formal schooling. Yet in 1986, the nation spent $264 billion on education for children age 6 and older, while it spent only about $1 billion for educating children 5 years old and younger. ...

We call for early and sustained intervention into the lives of “at risk” children as the only way to ensure that they embark and stay on the road to successful learning. We also urge that community support systems be mobilized on behalf of disadvantaged families and children. Efforts should include:

Programs to encourage pregnant teenagers and those with babies to stay in school. ...

Prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant teen-agers and other high-risk mothers and family health care and developmental screening for children. ...

Parenting education for both mothers and fathers. ...

Quality child-care arrangements for teen-agers in school and poor working parents. ...

Quality preschool programs for all disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds. ...

Restructuring the Foundations of Education. As they are currently structured, most public schools have not been successful at ensuring that their disadvantaged students develop the academic skills and work habits they will need to succeed on the job or in life. Children who are at risk of failing often attend schools that are at risk of failing their students. Changing the way schools relate to their students will require a fundamental restructuring of the way most schools are organized, staffed, managed, and financed. Every student must be guaranteed a chance to learn to the best of his or her ability.

We believe that any plan to restructure public schools that serve the disadvantaged should include:

School-based management that involves principals, teachers, parents, students, and other school personnel in shared decisionmaking and accountability for results.

Teachers who have made a commitment to working with the disadvantaged and who have expertise in dealing with children with multiple problems. We are concerned with the expected shortage of quality teachers and especially minority teachers.

Smaller schools and smaller classes that can raise achievement levels and increase interactions with teachers and other adults.

Support of preschool and child-care programs by the school system where appropriate for the community.

Up-to-date educational technology integrated into the curriculum to provide new learning opportunities for students and additional pedagogical support for teachers.

Support systems within the schools that include health services, nutritional guidance, and psychological, career, and family counseling.

Increased emphasis on extracurricular activities that help build academic, social, and physical skills.

Retention and Re-Entry. Millions of students reach high-school age already lost to the system. Too many of these join the legions of dropouts who have few job prospects and little hope for the future. This group is the most difficult for which to make generalized prescriptions because their needs and skill levels vary greatly. We recommend that programs targeted to students at risk of dropping out and those who have already left school should be carefully designed to meet the particular needs and deficiencies of these young people. Specifically, these programs should:

Combine work experience with education in basic skills.

Operate in an alternative setting that focuses on improving motivation, skills, and self-esteem.

Provide continuity in funding and long-term evaluation of the success of the program and the progress of the participants.

Building Partnerships:Schools, Business, and the Community

Business has an important stake in helping public schools improve the way they prepare young people for the future, and it has demonstrated its commitment to educational excellence through a broad spectrum of partnerships with the schools. Business should now focus its collaborative activities more sharply on disadvantaged children so that quality education can be made available to every child and every child is prepared to succeed in school.

The deep-seated problems of the disadvantaged will require collaborations that reach beyond the traditional boundaries of public education. Business can help guide community resources into programs that represent the best available investments and can play a pace-setting role in providing opportunities for parents to participate in their children’s schooling.

We urge business to become a driving force in the community on behalf of public education and a prime advocate of education initiatives for disadvantaged youngsters. The business community should also take the lead in encouraging and supporting higher funding levels where they are needed both for early prevention and for the public education system.

Business should promote employee participation in local school district activities, and they should encourage qualified corporate leaders and managers to take an active role in the local and state policymaking process through participation on school boards.

Business should also support the involvement of parents, a key factor in student success, in their children’s education. We recommend that corporations provide release time and flexible schedules for employees who must attend to their children’s educational needs or who want to serve their local school system as volunteers. Such corporate support is especially important for hourly and other nonmanagerial employees who are limited in their ability to arrange time to attend teacher conferences or participate in school functions without being penalized on the job.

Who Is Responsible?

... [A]lthough the problem of educating the disadvantaged is national in scope, progress is best achieved at the state and local levels and most effectively within the individual school.

Federal Responsibilities. We believe that the federal government needs to reaffirm its longstanding commitment to ensuring the disadvantaged access to quality education. Without equity, there can be no real excellence in education.

The federal government can set the tone and direction for change by establishing and funding demonstration projects in early-childhood education, dropout prevention, and other programs targeted to improving the quality of education for children in need. ...

Because Chapter 1 remedial reading and mathematics programs and Head Start programs have had demonstrable success in narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students, we urge that federal funding for these programs be brought up to levels sufficient to reach all eligible children. The federal government should also conduct a regular assessment of these and other programs to help ensure that they are operating effectively.

State and Local Governments. The states have clearly taken the lead in the current wave of education reform, and they have reasserted their historic role on behalf of public schools. The states are now paying a larger proportion of the education bill. In exchange, they have come to expect higher performance from local school districts and have increased both educational requirements and regulations governing how these new standards should be met.

States should assure adequate and appropriate funding for school districts whose students are most in need of additional support. However, we caution the states to resist the temptation to supplant local authority. Local school districts and individual schools should be provided with enough discretionary power so that programs are kept small in scale, remain manageable and flexible, and are able to be individualized.

Nevertheless, local school districts need to be held accountable to the community and to the education authority of their state. In individual schools, accountability for student performance should extend to principals, teachers, and parents. ...

A version of this article appeared in the September 09, 1987 edition of Education Week as Excerpts From The C.E.D.'s New Report, ‘Children in Need’


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