Survey Finds Reforms Not Aiding At-Risk Pupils

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The countless efforts to reform America's schools have not reached the children who most need the benefits of a good education, according to an annual state-by-state survey of child well-being scheduled for release this week.

The 7.1 million children living in poor communities often attend schools with inadequate heating, lighting, plumbing, and instructional supplies. But more important, teachers in high-poverty areas are the least prepared, expectations for students are low, and coursework is not challenging, says the "Kids Count Data Book 1997," produced by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Though it is possible for poor children to have the same educational opportunities as more advantaged children, the report's authors say, it will take a "comprehensive, decade-long commitment," grounded in research.

The study concludes that there are five concepts that have proved to contribute to children's success in school: preschool experiences that prepare young children to learn; small schools that can engage every child; high standards in curriculum, instruction, and assessment; strong and meaningful parent involvement; and community commitment to making education part of healthy youth and family development.

Nationwide, the report found that 40 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were not enrolled in preschool or kindergarten in 1993--the most recent year for which data were available.

It also found that 41 percent of 4th graders scored below the basic reading level in 1994, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and that 38 percent of 4th graders scored below the basic mathematics level last year.

'No Simple, Quick Way'

"Kids Count" highlights the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, which put in place stronger preschool programs, higher academic standards, a school-based accountability system, and family-resource centers, as an example of a sweeping reform that is working.

The state's 4th graders are making progress in all of the content areas that the state measures.

To create the conditions needed for improved teaching and learning, school leaders, at the least, should decentralize authority and shift resources to local schools, support staff development of principals and teachers, and create accountability systems that offer fair rewards and sanctions to schools, the report says.

"Although experience has shown there is no simple, quick way to ensure the effectiveness of schools in poor communities, we believe that these ideas ... can improve the quality of education in low-income neighborhoods and the life chances of kids who grow up there," Douglas W. Nelson, the president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in a statement.

The report also urges school district officials to strengthen relationships with their communities and improve teacher pay.

In addition, it encourages unions, parents, school boards, community organizations, and politicians to put aside their differences and focus on student needs, and it exhorts states to ensure that all students get an equitable and adequate education.

Mixed Results

"Kids Count" also provides yearly updates on 10 indicators of child well-being that include health, income, juvenile crime, and education. Beginning with 1985 data, the report documents overall improvement throughout the nation in such areas as the infant-mortality rate, the rate of death among children ages 1 to 14, the school dropout rate, and the percent of 16- to 19-year-olds not attending school and not working.

On the negative side, the report shows increases in the percent of low-birth-weight babies, the rate of teenage deaths, and the percent of single-parent families.

While the teenage birthrate has increased since 1985, the report notes that the rate has leveled off and declined slightly since 1991.

The most dramatic trend over the 1985-1994 period has been the 70 percent increase in the rate at which 10- to 17-year-olds are arrested for homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

But the report also indicates that there was a decline in the violent-crime arrest rate for juveniles between 1994 and 1995.

For More Information:

Free copies of "Kids Count Data Book 1997'' are available from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 701 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 547-6600; or by fax at (410) 547-6624.

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