As recently reported in The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a far reaching anti-obesity campaign in an effort to reverse the trend of growing waistlines. The initiative includes a proposal to provide “BMI Report Cards” to Massachusetts school children. Under this plan, public schools would be required to measure the height and weight of 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th grade students and calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI) with this data to determine if a student is overweight. That information would be sent home with the student, along with detailed advice on proper nutrition and exercise.
As recently reported in USA Today, a report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that between 2005 and 2006, the teen birth rate increased in 26 states, reversing a 14-year decline in teen birth rates. While states that historically had the lowest birth rates showed non-significant changes (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), states with already high teen birth rates (Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas) showed increases, leaving Mississippi with the highest rate of 68.4 births for every 1,000 female teen ages 15-19. Alaska showed the greatest increase in teen birth rates (up 19%), while the District of Columbia reported the most dramatic decline in rates (down 24%).
The numbers do not bode well for child wellbeing. In study after study, research has shown that children born and raised in single mother households are poorer than other children, and that other negative child outcomes follow. Children born to teen unmarried mothers, who often interrupt schooling to have their babies, are most vulnerable. A Hoffman and Foster study cited in a recent volume of the Future of Children volume on Poverty estimated that delaying childbearing among teens would increase median family income by a factor of 1.5 to 2.2, and reduce poverty rates by even more.
A recent front page New York Times story highlighted President Elect Obama’s campaign commitment to early childhood education and his pledge of $10 billion to this important cause. As the article correctly notes, the push for comprehensive early childhood education has had a tremendous boost from the research of Nobel-Prize winning economist, James J. Heckman, who showed in dollars what educators, psychologists and child advocates have been saying for years — that each dollar spent on quality early education can reduce and even eliminate the need for much higher government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy, and prisons. “Obama Pledge Stirs Hope in Early Education.”
The Boston Globe reported on Friday, December 5, 2008 that men are being hit by the current recession in much larger numbers than women. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the industries where men dominate – manufacturing, construction, and investment services – are the ones losing jobs the fastest. According to the Globe, there are 1.1 million fewer men working in the U.S. than a year ago at this time, but there are 12,000 more women working. “Losing Jobs in Unequal Numbers,” page A1.
The cover story of this week’s Time Magazine “How to Fix America’s Schools,” features Michelle Rhee, the relatively new and sometimes polarizing chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district. Rhee has declared that the key to reform is good teachers, and her methods for stacking the school system with good teachers are controversial: shutting schools, firing principals, trimming school administration bureaucracy, and, most significantly, dismissing teachers she deems unacceptable and replacing them with new and improved models. One of her most contentious proposals is to pay teachers who elect to give up tenure higher pay – salaries could reach $130,000 – based on effectiveness as measured by test scores and class room evaluation.
While this proposal has divided teachers and raised the ire of the union (which rejected Rhee’s proposal), research does support Rhee’s basic contention that good teachers equal good schools. According to a recent Future of Children volume, Excellence in the Classroom, that addresses improving teacher quality, what happens inside the classroom may be the most important factor in closing racial and social class gaps in learning. “Indeed, teachers are so important, that, according to one estimate, a child in poverty who has a good teacher for five years in a row would have learning gains large enough, on average, to close completely the achievement gap with higher-income students.”
- Rethink entry requirements for teaching. Teachers should meet initial certification but then required to follow rigorous procedures and requirements for tenure or promotion.
- Implement a strategy to identify effective teachers. Use test scores as one, but not the only measure of efficacy. In addition to student gains on tests, principal and parent evaluations and possibly other tools developed by all stakeholders should be used.
- Promote only effective teachers. Target professional development to nurture skills and make up for deficiencies, particularly in the early stages of a teacher’s career. If the extra help doesn’t help a deficient teacher improve, dismiss the teacher.
- Give bonuses to teachers who teach disadvantaged students or in fields that are difficult to staff.
- Promote professional development linked directly to teachers’ work. Not the current model of professional development, but a new and improved model that is several days long; subject specific; and aligned with school goals and curriculum.
— Based on “A Plan to Improve the Quality of Teaching in American Schools,” by Ron Haskins and Susanna Loeb. For more information, go to Excellence in the Classroom, eds. Cecilia Rouse and Susanna Loeb, Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2007.