Leaving Plenty of Children Behind

April 1, 2011

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001was touted as the solution to our national crisis in K-12 education outcomes. 

Some have said that the NCLB was merely a rebranding of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which was enacted as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1965, and which has been reauthorized every five years since then.

Whatever you want to call it:  it isn’t working

According to an intensive study published by the Manhattan Institute in 2002, the national high school graduation rate in the U.S in 1998 was 71 percent

In 2006, the percent of students earning a standard diploma in four years had dropped to 69.2 percent, and by 2007, it was 68.8 %.  At its peak in 1969, the national graduation rate was 77 %

About 20% of our non-graduates are from 25 large urban school districts, including New York City; Los Angeles; and Las Vegas (Clark County, Nevada). 

Why should we care?

 If dropouts were reduced by half in America’s 50 largest cities, the graduates extra earnings would add up to about $4.1 Billion per year, in turn contributing about $536 Million in incremental state and local tax revenue (source: Alliance for Excellent Education).

What could be done in New York State to change our paradigm of mediocrity?

There is a huge body of evidence which tells us that high-quality early education (ages 3 and 4) for low-income children improves graduation rates; reduces costs of remedial education; and reduces costs of justice system involvement.  

Clearly, quality early education is not a panacea — it cannot work in isolation.  High-quality K-3 education (including social-emotional learning curricula that strengthens self-regulation); availability of health care  and mental health services for children and families; and family involvement are some of the other factors that combine with quality early education to strengthen probability of success in school.

Why haven’t I ever heard of “high-quality early education”?

Research over the past 20 years has spawned a new paradigm known as “Quality Early Care and Education” replacing what we used to call “nursery school” and/or “day care.”  Why?  Recent research is showing us that Birth to Five is a critical learning period: 75% of a child’s brain growth occurs before age five.  And children – particularly children from economically disadvantaged homes — who attend quality early learning programs — are at least twice as likely to graduate high school and attend college.

What are our Elected Officials doing to fix the problem?

The year 2011 may get a special chapter in history books to document the many “political power plays” at the state, regional and local level to hold the line — or reduce — taxes.

Here are some great 2011 political sound bites:  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has risen to national notoriety for his campaign to eradicate nearly all collective bargaining rights from state employees.  Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved a law which severely limits the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, helping to create a contentious and divisive political battle. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has gone to battle with the NJ Education Association (a.k.a. ‘the teacher’s union’) over their annual income of $130 Million, virtually all generated through mandatory payroll deductions of $730 in mandatory dues per teacher, every year.  And, Gov. Christie has further distinguished himself by capping school district superintendent salaries at $175,000, the same pay he receives as Governor.  And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — who has helped to create tremendous angst as his 2011-12 budget slashed $1.25 Billion in state aid to education – wants to follow Christie’s lead on salary caps.

I’m all for this.  My taxes are too high, and I can’t take it any more!

Here are some concepts and ideas that seem to be completely missing from these political discussions, campaigns and conversations:   Reform, re-engineering, consolidation, reorganization, and mergers.

Maryland has received some national notoriety because its educational system seems to be working:  Education Week has ranked Maryland Number One out of our fifty states for public school outcomes for three years running: 2009, 2010 and 2011.

I wondered —- I hope you will try to join me!What are the folks in Maryland doing to keep themselves at the forefront of school reform?

Maryland and Ready at Five

 Census data tells us that Maryland is economically ahead of most states from a household income perspective, yet the data also tells us that Maryland is very diverse both economically and ethnically.

With a population of nearly 6 Million people — many of whom live in the central region of the state (the Baltimore Metropolitan Area) — Maryland has large areas of agricultural land in its coastal and Piedmont zones which is dominated by dairying.  Maryland farmers also grow a variety of vegetables, and some tobacco.  There is also a large automated chicken-farming sector in the state’s southeastern part; Salisbury is home to Perdue Farms. In fact, Maryland’s food-processing plants are the most significant type of manufacturing by value in the state.  Other manufacturing in Maryland is diversified, and includes electronics, computer equipment, and chemicals. Mining is limited to coal, which is located in the mountainous western part of the state. We know that farming and manufacturing are great and venerable vocations, but they typically are middle income, at best.

All of that said, Maryland as THE state where your child (or grandchild) will have the highest probability of receiving the best K-12 public education in America, likely because of their Ready at Five program.  Ready at Five was designed to ensure that all children who enter kindergarten are indeed ready to learn.

In school year 2001-02, the percentage of Maryland kindergarteners from low-income households who were fully school-ready was 34%.  By school year 2010-11, with supports and interventions from the Ready at Five initiative, the number who came from low-income households who were ready to learn had jumped to 73%. The overall percentage of Maryland kindergarteners fully ready to start school increased to 81% in 2010-2011. 

People say Maryland is spending way too much money on pK-12 Public Education!

Most recent national data available (www.census.gov) shows that in 2008, public school systems spent an average of $10,259 per pupil.   The report also reveals that public school systems received $582.1 billion in funding in 2008, up 4.5 percent from 2007. Of that amount, state governments contributed 48.3 percent, followed by local sources, which contributed 43.7 percent, and federal sources, which made up the remaining 8.1 percent. 

States that spent the most per pupil were New York ($17,173), New Jersey ($16,491), Alaska ($14,630), the District of Columbia ($14,594), Vermont ($14,300) and Connecticut ($13,848).   Maryland came in 10th ($12,966).

So, despite per-pupil spending at higher than the national average, Maryland is in the middle, yet students who go to school in Maryland are clearly benefiting from the Number One ranking out of our fifty states for public school outcomes.  The top 5 spenders are not doing so well.

What could we learn from Number One State: Maryland?

Not sure.  No one is talking about this.  Just curious: I wonder why?

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please post them on my blog.  I’ll try to include them in a future message. 

Hey, maybe if a bunch of us think about this subject ‘outside the box’ we will come up with some good and sustainable solutions!

Let’s get strategic.  Send me your thoughts.  I promise to be a good and responsible steward!

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