Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Children at the Economic Margins Key to Sustaining Progress

A new study by the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center emphasizes the critical need for Kentucky to invest in education for children from all walks of life in order to raise our economic status.

Some highlights from the article include the following facts:

National picture:
Ø “As education and skill levels rise in the developing world, businesses are tapping into a vast pool of highly skilled, lower-cost talent. Engineers, accountants, architects, radiologists and computer programmers from India, China, and the Philippines, for example, now perform these jobs for U.S. entities for a fraction of the cost of their American counterparts.”
Ø “. . . Forrester Research predicts that roughly 3 million high-tech jobs will be relocated overseas by 2015.”
Ø “. . . it is widely acknowledged that more U.S. students need to pursue careers involving the STEM skills—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Ø “A National Science Foundation survey found that only 16.8 percent of first university degrees in the United States were in the STEM fields as compared to 33.3 percent for Asia, 64 percent for Japan, 52.1 percent for China and 40.6 percent for South Korea.”
Ø “. . . by high school, U.S. students fall behind most of their peers in industrialized as well as what many still regard as developing nations.”
Ø “We seem to be the only country in the world whose children fall farther behind the longer they stay in school.”

Kentucky landscape:
Ø “In general, the performance of the typical Kentucky student on national testing has steadily improved in each subject area. However, in spite of these gains, the academic performance of Kentucky students merely parallels and at times lags the national average, an unenviable benchmark, international testing suggests.”
Ø “Kentucky’s students have shown steady progress at all levels; however, the same pattern of lost ground at the middle and high school levels is observed.”
Ø “. . . the state’s overall profile is one of steady, measureable, and broadly recognized improvement. Nevertheless, just as U.S. students do not distinguish
themselves internationally, Kentucky students, with the notable exception of 4th-grade science students, have yet to distinguish themselves nationally.”
Ø “. . . Kentucky has improved its national education ranking from 43rd in 1992 to 34th in 2005, a finding consistent with Education Week’s Quality Counts 2007 Achievement Index, which also ranks Kentucky 34th, and the Morgan Quitno 2006-07 Smartest State Index, which ranks Kentucky 31st. This improvement has been driven by 4th- and 8th-grade science scores, 4th-grade reading, and the steady decline in the dropout rate from 5.6 percent in 1996 to 3.3 percent in 2004.”
Ø “Kentucky’s gains have come in spite of the considerable and broadly recognized liability of educating children who are at a profound economic disadvantage and lifting the educational status of a population that has historically been undereducated and disproportionately poor.”
Ø “Given the challenge that remains to be met, it will be necessary to maximize returns on the huge public investment we are making in education.”
Ø “. . . a RAND study of student performance on components of the NAEP and the effects of state-level spending identified key areas that exerted the most influence on test scores. While higher levels of investment per pupil clearly yielded higher results, strategic investments may matter more, suggesting that the wise use of even limited resources can improve academic performance. What’s more, RAND researchers conclude, increased investment in public education matters far more to less-advantaged students. While the effects of increased investment are negligible or nonexistent for more-advantaged students, they clearly affect minority and less-advantaged students, and the outcomes “can be large and significant if properly allocated and targeted.”
Ø “While surrounding states have caught up with the national average in per pupil spending, Kentucky continues to lag behind. Kentucky now spends just 82 percent of the U.S. average per pupil compared to 99 percent among surrounding
Ø “In spite of significant barriers that strongly influence educational outcomes—high poverty rates, low educational attainment levels, and lagging investment—two separate indices suggest that the efficiency of Kentucky’s investment is high.”
Ø “In a 2004 student using 2001 data, the Manhattan Institute concluded . . . Kentucky ranked fourth in the nation for school efficiency. Using similar criteria, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Education Report Card gives Kentucky a B for its “solid return on investment,” which it deems “strong relative to state spending.”
Ø “We calculate that Kentucky’s national ranking of 37th on NAEP proficiency is equivalent to a ranking of 25th on NAEP returns per dollar spent on students, and a ranking of 8th nationally when we control for factors such as poverty and the low level of education attainment in the state. In short, our state has achieved
measurable gains relative to our rather significant fiscal and cultural limitations.”
Ø “States with higher levels of achievement, RAND finds, also have more children in public prekindergarten programs, underscoring the critical role played by early
childhood education.”

Ø “. . . Kentucky ranks highly among states for its preschool efforts, which are free to at-risk children. However in light of research about early childhood development, they appear to be too little too late. . . Participation in state-funded
preschool programs is restricted to three-year-olds with a disability and four-year-olds with a disability or from low-income families.”
Ø “. . . the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education recommends programs for infants and toddlers be led by teachers with BAs. Kentucky falls egregiously short of this standard, requiring only that child care workers be 18 or older, have no criminal record, and be free of tuberculosis. Moreover, assistants to
state-run preschool teachers are not required to be credentialed, and facilities
are not monitored.”
Ø “Disadvantaged children arguably hold the key to Kentucky’s future. Their academic success will ultimately determine whether our state’s future remains one of disproportionate poverty or gives way to rising prosperity. An extensive and longstanding body of research clearly shows that economic disadvantage has a
significant negative drag on academic performance.”
Ø “Were we to close the substantial academic gaps associated with inequities, Kentucky students would be performing at dramatically higher levels relative to their national peers. . . . Kentucky’s 4th and 8th graders would rank among the nation’s leaders in reading and science and move into the top tier in mathematics. In short, our goals for education would be nearly realized.”
Ø “How we pay and reward teachers and where the best teachers are typically found have emerged as central issues. At present, we reward our veteran and, research suggests, most competent frontline educators by permitting them to choose from available slots based on seniority, rather than utilize their talents where they are most needed.”
Ø “Inarguably, teachers are key to rising levels of achievement. A landmark mid-1990s University of Tennessee study that grouped teachers by their longitudinal effects on student performance on standardized tests found teacher quality to be “the single most dominant factor affecting student academic gain.”
Ø “A growing body of more recent quality research, . . . further refutes a longstanding assumption that demographics are too powerful to overcome. These studies show that good teachers can raise student performance, regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Ø “Indeed, the human resource system for teachers may require restructuring if we are to ensure that all students, particularly poor and minority children and those from undereducated families, are given every opportunity to excel.”
Ø “To avoid continued economic stagnation, incomes that year after year lag the national average, Kentucky must continue to vigorously pursue its ascent in educational status. In some areas, research suggests the need for new investment, but a more informed, focused use of the significant resources we now deploy to public education may yield gains in the classroom, the workplace and our larger economy.”

Thanks to Jon and Dorie for passing this along.

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