Special Report

Improving Children’s Chances

By Lynn Olson — December 29, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For the past decade, Quality Counts has focused on the policy efforts states have undertaken to improve K-12 education. But that schooling is just part of a larger continuum of learning opportunities that starts in infancy and progresses into adulthood. And if Americans are to make the most of those opportunities—both as individuals and as a nation—their learning should build on itself at every step along the way. As Isabel V. Sawhill, a co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, puts it: “Skill begets skill, and each stage of education builds on skills acquired at an earlier stage.”

Yet in the United States, the historical separation between various levels of education, and the consequent lack of communication and coherence across sectors, means that children and older students are lost at every juncture. Just consider:

Executive Summary
Overview: PRE-K-16
Improving Children’s Chances
Spanning a Lifetime
Child Well-Being
Early Childhood
K-12 Schooling
Postsecondary Success
Workforce Readiness
International Comparisons
Table of Contents

• Even before kindergarten, the average cognitive scores of children from the highest socioeconomic group are 60 percent above those of children from the lowest socioeconomic one.

• Fewer than one-third of 4th graders read at the “proficient” level or higher on national tests, and fewer than a third of 8th graders reach that benchmark in reading or mathematics.

• The gaps in reading and math performance between poor, African-American, and Hispanic students and their better-off, white, and Asian peers are roughly two grade levels—or at least 20 points on a 500-point scale.

• Fewer than eight in 10 white teenagers graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma. That figure drops to 52 percent for black students and 56 percent for Hispanic students.

• While some 33 percent of white Americans ages 25 to 64 have at least a four-year college degree, that’s true for only 18 percent of black Americans and 13 percent of Hispanic Americans.

A Shaky Start

Young children from low-income families perform significantly lower on assessments of literacy and mathematics achievement even before they start kindergarten, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort. Rather than closing, those differences persist as students progress through school.

*Click image to see the full chart.


Note: Achievement is expressed in standard deviations above or below average

SOURCE: Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkham, “Inequality at the Starting Gate,” 2002

Such statistics cloud the future not only for individuals, but also for the country. That’s because a growing portion of the future U.S. workforce will come from low-income and minority groups that have been least well served by the education system at all levels.

Unless the nation improves the educational prospects of its young people generally, and of its poor and minority students in particular, the United States’ place in the global economy and the strength of a democracy based on an informed, participating citizenry are seriously threatened, prominent Americans warn.

"; } elseif ($display == “gg”) { $tablewidth = ""; } elseif ($display =="prg”) { $tablewidth = ""; } else { $tablewidth = ""; } ?> More Accompanying Charts:

Click on links to view charts.

Attainment Divide More than seven in 10 Asian-Americans ages 25 to 64 and more than six in 10 non-Hispanic white adults have completed at least some college. In contrast, nearly seven in 10 Hispanic Americans and half of black Americans have a high school diploma or less, according to 2005 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
[Collapse Chart]
Educational Attainment by Race and Ethnicity
Note: Associate’s degrees are included in the \"some college\" category. Group values may not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2007
"; } ?>

Growth in Graduation The percent of public high school students graduating with a diploma in four years stagnated during much of the 1990s, hovering around 66 percent. Since then, graduation rates have slowly but steadily improved. Although most groups show improvement, large racial and ethnic gaps in graduation rates persist.
[Collapse Chart]
Trend in Graduation Rates (Cumulative Promotion Index)
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2006
"; } ?>

Persistent Reading Gaps Data from the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often known as “the nation’s report card,” show that high school seniors from low-income families read on a par with middle school students from more affluent families.
[Collapse Chart]
Reading Achievement Across the Grades

Note: NSLP–National School Lunch Program
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress, U.S. Department of Education, 2002
"; } ?>

“Suddenly, Americans find themselves in competition for their jobs not just with their neighbors, but with individuals around the world,” Norman R. Augustine, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of the Lockheed Martin Corp., said in 2005 testimony before Congress.

“How will America compete in this rough-and-tumble global environment that is approaching faster than many had expected?” he asked. “The answer appears to be ‘not very well’—unless we do a number of things differently from the way we have been doing them in the past.”

To do so will require building bridges across the diverse and fragmented system of education and training in the United States—bringing together institutions that traditionally have operated apart.

For that reason, beginning with this edition, Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report will focus on the connections between K-12 education and the other systems with which it intersects: early-childhood education, postsecondary education and training, teacher preparation, and workforce and economic development.

After all, while states tend to treat those policy areas in separate silos, young people themselves experience the system as a continuous—or discontinuous—whole.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Sponsor
Executive Q&A: Building Back Better: The Future of Digital Curriculum
Edmentum’s Chief Strategy Officer Amanda Kocon and Chief Product Officer Todd Mahler discuss the future of digital curriculum.
Content provided by Edmentum Inc.
Curriculum District That Banned Diverse Books Reverses Its Decision After Pushback
A Pennsylvania district voted unanimously to reinstate a four-page list of resources from some of today's most acclaimed creators of color.
Tina Locurto, The York Dispatch, Pa.
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus