The United States of ‘C-’: What's Missing From the Chatter on How to Fix Education in America

Experts weigh in on our nation's new report card.

nation's report card
Our nation's report card is below average when it comes to K-12 education. (Photo: Stockbyte)
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle tout children and education as a national concern.

But a new survey shows that the United States is simply not doing a good job keeping its children healthy and helping them to learn.

According to a first-of-its-kind report by Save the Children and First Focus, the country received a C- average when it comes to economic security, early childhood well-being, K-12 education, permanence and stability, and health and safety.

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“America has always risen to the challenge of ensuring a brighter future for our children,” the study says. “It is time we rise to that challenge again. C- is just not good enough. We can do better.”

In 2010, the U.S. Senate commissioned a report card series after a subcommittee led by former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) wanted a study on the recession's impact on youth and academic performance. Dodd along with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) announced the report’s findings along with actor and Save Our Children Ambassador Jennifer Garner this week.

The grades were damning in many areas, according to the report.

  • Economic security: D
    • Twenty-two percent of children currently live in poverty. In the 2010-2011 school year, 1.1 million children were identified as homeless. More than 8.5 million children live in a household where one or more children are food insecure. In fact, the country faces its highest child poverty rate in 20 years.
  • Early childhood: C-
    • During the 2010-2011 school year, 28 percent of 4-year-olds and only 4 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded kindergarten programs. That same year, state funding for pre-school programs declined by $60 million.
  • K-12 education: C –
    • About 81 percent of young adults obtained at least a high diploma or its equivalence in 2009. More troubling, an estimated 6.7 million youth, or17 percent of the total youth population in America (age 16–24) are disconnected from school.
  • Permanency and stability: D
    • A one-day snapshot of residential facilities in 2010 found that they housed 70,792 children under age 18. Between January and June of 2011, the United States carried out 46,486 deportations of the parents of U.S. citizen children.
  • Health and safety: C+
    • From 2009–2010, nearly 18 percent of children and adolescents age 2–9 years were considered obese. In 2011, about 19 percent of 10th graders reported illicit drug use in the past 30 days and 14.7 percent of 10th graders had 5+ drinks in a row in the previous two weeks.

A bright spot in the report card showed that in 2010, 90 percent of children had health insurance. Otherwise the picture was consistently bleak.

Education is a political issue not just an individual issue.

“You can take the grades with a grain of salt,” Nicholas Tampio, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, says. “I don’t think that is the key thing. I think they are trying to alert people to what the real problem is which is that education is a political issue not just an individual issue.”

Mark Shriver, senior vice president of Save the Children, agrees. He said in a press release related to the study, “The presidential candidates this year are talking about building an even greater, more prosperous and more competitive nation. And yet, during the first presidential debate, neither candidate mentioned the poverty epidemic affecting the lives of 16 million children in America.”

The study recommends not simply voting for candidates that focus on education and children, but it also stresses partnerships with community leaders such as business owners, doctors, and faith leaders to better impact the children in their communities.

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