Despite Recession, US Children Making Academic Progress

A growing number of children are enrolling in preschool, while the percentage of students testing at grade-level in reading and mathematics has also gone up.

The latest round of economic news confirms that America’s exit from the recession is continuing to be slow and halting. Still, even in this difficult environment there are signs that children are advancing in quite a few measures of childhood progress. According to the Christian Science Monitor, new data suggests that not only is a bigger proportion of U.S. kids enrolling in preschool, students of all ages are performing better on tests designed to assess academic achievement.

All this is in spite of the fact that school districts all over the country have recently trimmed budgets, the number of children growing up in poverty is growing, and spending on social services aimed at families with incomes below poverty level has also been reduced.

Although welcoming the good news, many are taking the government to task for not devoting enough resources to ensure the well-being of America’s kids.

“This year’s findings reveal signs of hope in the midst of tough economic times for millions of families across the country,” said Patrick McCarthy, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in a statement releasing the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book. The national philanthropy dedicated to children is based in Baltimore.

For the past 20 years, the Foundation has released a report documenting the changing conditions of American youth based on the data collected from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Good news wasn’t limited only to education, in the latest edition of the report. The authors also found a 20% reduction in the number of children without medical insurance, and a more than 15% decrease in the child and teen death rate. But the report mainly focused on education, where the data showed a most remarkable series of gains.

Over the previous year, the number of fourth graders reading at grade level went up from 30% to 32%, and 6% more children are now at grade level in mathematics. For the first time, fewer than a quarter of students around the country failed to graduate high school on time. In 2009, the last year for which graduation data was available, 76% of students graduated in four years — up from 73% the year before.

Improvements in children’s health and education are likely the result of a decade or more of concerted emphasis in federal and state policies, Laura Speer, a Casey Foundation associate director and co-author of the report.  On the education front, the federal No Child Left Behind law’s emphasis on math and reading scores and a national movement to increase both preschool attendance and high school graduation could explain the numbers, she says. And in health, she points to improvements in car safety for kids and teens, as well as advances in medical care.

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