Ready-To-Learn Goal Still Yards Away From End Zone

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Many of the nation's young children are not attending early-education programs or getting the learning experiences they need at home to prepare them for school, concludes a report from the organization responsible for measuring progress toward the eight national education goals.

The special report--the first ever from the National Education Goals Panel to focus on a single goal--examines 10 indicators to determine whether the nation is making headway toward the first goal, which states that by 2000, all children will start school ready to learn.

So far, too many children are still being born with health risks associated with behavior that could have been avoided, the report says. For example, their mothers smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol during pregnancy. And, according to the report, some youngsters are still not getting the immunizations they need.

The report was released last week by actor and director Rob Reiner at a National Governors' Association meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Reiner, who has devoted much of his attention recently to this issue, is chairman of the "I Am Your Child" campaign, a public-engagement effort stressing the importance of healthy development during the first three years of life. ("Awareness Campaign Puts Spotlight On Importance of Ages 0-3," April 23, 1997.)

For More Information

"Special Early Childhood Report 1997'' is available for free from the National Education Goals Panel, 1255 22nd St. N.W., Suite 502, Washington, DC 20037; (202) 724-0015. Ordering information can also be found on the panel's World Wide Web site:

The goals panel's report is "proof positive of the tremendous work we need to do to help our nation's youngest citizens grow up healthy and strong," Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican and the current NGA chairman, said in a written statement. "We have made great strides in the past few years in raising public awareness and boosting immunizations, but we need to sustain this effort to reach more children."

Created in 1990, the bipartisan goals panel is made up of governors and other state and federal officials.

The three-day NGA session was held specifically to highlight states' activities to support families with young children and to increase the supply of high-quality child care and early education.

Delaware's Parent Education Partnership was one of the programs held up as an example for other states to follow. The partnership is a joint public-private venture aimed at improving parent education services throughout the state.

Another is Vermont's Success by Six project, which is providing about 9,000 children and their families with such services as visits to new parents, family-literacy classes, parent education groups, and health screenings for 2«-year-olds.

And in Rhode Island, in-home family child-care providers can receive health and dental insurance from the state.

No Direct Measures

The goals panel has identified qualities that children need to be successful when they enter school, such as emotional well-being, communication skills, and social development. But because no direct measures of those characteristics exist, the panel has "been giving indicators on what's measurable around the goal," said Ken Nelson, the executive director of the panel.

The new report also found that:

  • In 1990, 6 percent of regulated family child-care providers had earned a child-development-associate credential, compared with 24 percent of the employees who worked in centers.
  • The percentage of expectant mothers who began prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy ranged from 60 percent in some states to 90 percent in others in 1995.
  • African-American infants were twice as likely as those from other racial and ethnic groups to be born at low birth weights.
  • Forty-five percent of all infants and toddlers are read to every day. But of those babies whose parents didn't complete high school, only 25 percent are read to that often.

The panel intends to release a follow-up report on the first goal in 2000, which is also the year that the "I Am Your Child" campaign concludes.

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  • The National Education Goals Panel regularly updates an on-line report card on the nation's progress toward the eight goals.
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