Monthly Archives: January 2012

The True Cost of High School Dropouts

In an Op.Ed. in the New York Times yesterday, Future of Children Senior Editor Cecilia Rouse and Columbia’s Henry M. Levin explain that although President Obama’s announcement regarding compulsory education until graduation or age 18 is a step in the right direction, evidence suggests that more effective prevention efforts begin much earlier than high school. Click here to read more:

Raising Our ‘Standards for Teaching and Learning’

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama declared, “To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier. We’ve convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning – the first time that’s happened in a generation.” He then presented three aims for raising our standards in education: effective teachers, high school completion, and affordable college tuition.

Effective Teachers. President Obama emphasized the role of teachers in the lives of their students. He called on states to extend resources to schools for rewarding the most effective teachers. The Future of Children volume Excellence in the Classroom explains that high quality education is crucial for the wellbeing of children and our nation. Thus, advocates recommend that teacher-improvement policies ultimately be examined in terms of their influence on student performance.

High School Completion. To increase high school completion rates, President Obama called on states to require all students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. The Future of Children volume America’s High Schools explains that dropping out of high school places burdens on students themselves and on society. Students experience lower earnings as well as higher risk of unemployment and health issues. Society faces higher crime rates and greater spending on public assistance. Successful dropout prevention programs focus on family outreach and resolving the issues students face outside of school.

Affordable College Tuition. To get more young people through college, President Obama urged Congress to extend the tuition tax credit, he called on states to make higher education more of a priority, and he asked colleges and universities to keep tuition costs down. The Future of Children volume Transition to Adulthood highlights successful programs for increasing college enrollment and completion. As indicated in a previous Future of Children blog, programs designed to simplify the financial aid application process have been found to increase college enrollment for families with low to moderate incomes.

As indicated in The Future of Children, several policies and programs have been shown to effectively address the challenges discussed by President Obama, while continued evaluation should examine the effects of other programs. Through a research-based emphasis on effective teachers, high school completion, and affordable college tuition, we can raise our nation’s standards for teaching and learning and provide a brighter future for our children.

Prekindergarten Programs Affected by Recession

“Children who attend center care or preschool programs enter school more ready to learn, but both the share of children enrolled in these programs and the quality of care they receive differ by race and ethnicity. Black children are more likely to attend preschool than white children, but may experience lower-quality care. Hispanic children are much less likely than white children to attend preschool. The types of preschool that children attend also differ. Both black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children to attend Head Start.” (The Future of Children: School Readiness: Closing Ethnic and Racial Gaps)

Public funding of early childhood care and education, particularly Head Start, has made some progress in reducing ethnic and racial gaps in preschool attendance. Magnuson and Waldfogel, in their chapter in the School Readiness volume of the Future of Children, conclude that “substantial increases in Hispanic and black children’s enrollment in preschool, alone or in combination with increases in preschool quality, have the potential to decrease school readiness gaps.”

Although we know how beneficial it is for children to attend preschool or prekindergarten, the expansion of these programs has slowed down and in some cases has halted or reversed due to budget cuts. “Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool, either public or private. Families who earn about $40,000 to $50,000 annually face the greatest difficulties because they make too much to qualify for many publicly funded programs, but can’t afford private ones, said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.”

According to Pre-K Now, state moneys for prekindergarten more than doubled nationally to $5.1 billion, while at the same time access increased from a little more than 700,000 children to more than 1 million over the past decade. But in the 2009-10 school year, state budget cuts began affecting the programs.

Despite these challenges, early childhood learning advocates are encouraged by a recent federal emphasis on improving early childhood programs. As noted in the Huffington Post’s piece Public Pre-Kindergarten Programs Slowed, Even Reversed, By Recession, “nine states were awarded a collective $500 million in grants last month to improve access to and the quality of early childhood programs for kids from birth to age 5. A month earlier, President Barak Obama announced new rules under which lower-performing Head Start programs will compete for funding,” In an effort to improve the quality of pre-kindergarten programs. (Huffington Post 1/17/12)

For more on education policies that impact children, go to the Future of Children website:

Research on Fragile Families

As we celebrate the achievements of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., researchers continue to find his dream deferred for millions of American children born to unmarried parents. Referring to unmarried couples with children, the term ‘Fragile Families’ signals a greater likelihood of economic and relationship instability. Children of fragile families are at greater risk of poorer health, school achievement, and social and emotional development.

Researchers at Princeton and Columbia Universities have collected data from 20 cities on the lifestyles, health, and wellbeing of fragile families. This ongoing project, known as the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, began by interviewing parents when their children were born and has continued with follow-up interviews at their children’s first, third, fifth, and ninth birthdays. Researchers are now making preparations for the 15-year wave to examine adolescent wellbeing, behavior and peer influence, and once again follow-up with parents.

As the Fragile Families study continues moving forward, new findings are constantly emerging from the data. The Future of Children published a volume on Fragile Families summarizing many of these findings. Topics in the volume include parental relationships, mothers’ economic conditions and sources of support, contributions of unwed fathers, incarceration, and unmarried parents in college. Research on the Fragile Families data has also been cited in other Future of Children volumes: Antipoverty Policies, Transition to Adulthood, Opportunity in America, and Marriage and Child Wellbeing. In addition, hundreds of other publications, including journal articles, books and book chapters, working papers, and research briefs have been made available for easy access on the Fragile Families publications website.

Researchers and Fragile Families staff members (FFDATA) at Princeton seek to maximize the use of the rich data that has come out of the Study by making data files available for public use. Novice and experienced data users can email the FFDATA team ( with questions about the Study and receive help with downloading and using the various files. They can also inquire about the three-day Fragile Families data users’ workshop that will be held in July at Columbia University.

Incarceration and the Family

National Public Radio’s Tell Me More recently featured a discussion on a surprising trend in the US criminal justice system – the number of offenders under adult correctional supervision has begun to decline. While the incarceration rate in 2010 was still about seven times the average in Western Europe, the number under court supervision dropped by 1.3 percent. Experts attribute the decline to a realization among policymakers that there are more effective and affordable ways to treat nonviolent offenders.

About 2.7 million people under age 18, representing about 1 in 28 children in the US, had a parent in jail or prison in 2010, according to a Pew Research study. As noted in the Future of Children issue on Fragile Families, in many cases there are negative outcomes for families when parents are incarcerated for a nonviolent offense. Formerly incarcerated fathers have lower earnings, are less likely to work, and are more likely to experience homelessness. Their children are more likely to face material hardship and residential moves, have contact with the foster care system, show aggressive behavior, and are less likely to live with both biological parents. Findings suggest that these negative effects extend beyond parent-child separation and are limited to families who don’t report domestic violence, suggesting that incarceration may have positive outcomes where domestic violence has occurred.

As state budgets face continual strains, finding new ways to treat nonviolent offenders may be a winning solution for both states and families. However, all new strategies must be carefully examined before implementation.

In the Future of Children Fragile Families volume, researchers argue that any proposed reform should first be assessed in terms of its consequences for families. Intensive community supervision is recommended, along with drug treatment where necessary, and a system that allows for a timely response to probation and parole violations without a disproportionately severe prison time. For reducing the risk of returning to prison, the volume recommends reentry programs to provide transitional services for education and training, medical treatment, housing, and job placement. Research links such programs to lower recidivism and improved employment for ex-prisoners. For more discussion on alternatives to incarceration and policy recommendations to reduce recidivism, see the Future of Children’s issues on Juvenile Justice, the Transition to Adulthood, and Fragile Families.

Physical Activity Promotes Health in Mind and Body

Anti-obesity ads in Georgia (Strong4life), featuring overweight, unhappy children, have caused much controversy. The ads are aimed at awakening parents to the stark reality of obesity with such messages as “Some diseases aren’t just for adults anymore,” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.” While the ads do a great job of pointing out the problem, Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrics professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School points out that “There is no mention about what a parent can do other than to say ‘stop sugarcoating the problem’.” There is also a worry that the ads will create self-confidence problems for overweight children. Dr. Miriam Labbok states, “Blaming the victim rarely helps. These children know they are fat, and they are ostracized already.” (NY Daily News January 2, 2012.)

The Obesity Coalition is among those who oppose the ads, writing in a letter to Georgia Children’s Healthcare Alliance that the “messaging of the campaign is purely fuel for the fires that represent the nonstop onslaught of teasing and bullying that America’s children, affected by childhood obesity, face daily.” Yet Maya Walters, a teenager who appeared in one of the ads states “I think it’s really brave to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it’s when people are uncomfortable that change comes.” (NY Times Motherload Blog January 3, 2012)

Teaching kids to make healthy food choices and encouraging physical activity can help kids avoid obesity. According to a recent research study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, “While physical activity is known to improve children’s physical fitness and lower their risk of obesity, new research suggests that it may also help them perform better in school.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that out of 50 studies, more than half showed a positive association between school-based physical activity and academic performance. ( ABC Good Morning America, January 2, 2012)

Another study by Dr. Kristen Copeland from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, published in Pediatrics shows that “daily physical activity is essential for preschool age children both for preventing obesity and for their development- their physical development and their cognitive development…When kids are running, skipping and learning to ride tricycles, they aren’t only exercising their bodies, they’re also exercising their minds.” Copeland suggests that parents get involved to help shape child care practices around physical activity. (

The Future of Children journal on Childhood Obesity suggests the following:

  • Involve both children and parents in obesity-prevention programs, typically conducted within schools, child care centers, and after school programs.
  • Improve nutritional and physical activity standards within schools.
  • Limit children’s exposure to advertising.
  • Improve preventive care and treatment for obesity and related conditions.

For further reading about obesity in children, please visit the Future of Children.