The formula for children in the U.S. can be summed up in one word, I think: “harsh.” And the response we should have to this formula is “inexcusable.”
Let’s consider the U.S. formula for children:
- Corporal punishment—persists in 19 states in the U.S.
- Medication—ADHD diagnoses and medications have risen in the U.S. during the same 30-year period as the current accountability era in education.
- Grade retention—one of the most popular forms of reading policy in the U.S. is retaining children in 3rd grade based on one high-stakes testing, despite 40 years of research about the overwhelming negative impact of grade retention.
- Testing, more testing, and even more testing—over the past thirty years, U.S. schools have increased dramatically both the time spent testing, the time spent on test-prep, the funding spent on testing, the funding spent on test-prep materials, and the consequences of high-stakes testing.
- Segregation by race and class—both public schools and charter schools can be accurately described as reflecting and perpetuating the return of segregation in the U.S.
- “No excuses” schools and demands for “grit”—especially children who live in poverty are segregated in schools where their days are characterized by “no excuses” policies that include authoritarian demands on their behavior.
- Children must prove they are deserving—childhood is social Darwinism in the U.S.
If children in the U.S. can survive the gauntlet that is the national formula for children, as young adults they can look forward to crushing debt to attend college so that they can enter a nearly non-existent workforce.
But there is a caveat to this formula: The U.S. formula for children above is for “other people’s children,” that new majority in U.S. public schools and those children living in homes of the working poor, the working class, and the dwindling middle class.
Children of the privileged are exempt.
And what are the choices we refuse to make?
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (UK) has released “Does money affect children’s outcomes?”—based in part on “many studies…from the US.” The key points include:
- This review identified 34 studies with strong evidence about whether money affects children’s outcomes. Children in lower-income families have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics.
- The evidence was strongest for cognitive development and school achievement, followed by social-behavioural development. Income also affects outcomes indirectly impacting on children, including maternal mental health, parenting and home environment.
- The impact of increases in income on cognitive development appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children’s well-being.
- A given sum of money makes significantly more difference to children in low-income than better-off households (but still helps better-off children).
- Money in early childhood makes most difference to cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference to social and behavioural outcomes.
- Longer-term poverty affects children’s outcomes more severely than short-term poverty. Although many studies were from the US, the mechanisms through which money appears to affect children’s outcomes, including parental stress, anxiety and material deprivation, are equally relevant in the UK.
The third bullet point should not be ignored: The key to eradicating poverty and the negative consequences of poverty for children is to address poverty directly in the lives of children—money—and to address inequity directly in the education of children.
There is no either/or, then, in the education reform debate. It is imperative that we do both.
Ultimately, the U.S. formula for children is based on flawed assumptions. Before we can change that formula, we must change our views of poverty as well as people and children trapped in poverty.
Scarcity and abundance are powerful forces; in the U.S., both are allowed to exist as an ugly game of chance.
The choice of abundance for all is there to be embraced, however, if compassion and community are genuinely a part of the American character.