A couple of days ago I saw the results of one of those international academic tests in which the United States fails to perform up to its potential. We’d do so much better if we competed with all of our human resources, and fortunately we can make that happen.
Tuesday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation came out with a report that measures how children and young adults are doing on a dozen indicators that contribute to good life outcomes.
Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance, said that in our state, “We want all kids to succeed. But this report says we need strategies targeted to the children who are farthest from the opportunities that they need to be successful in adulthood.”
The Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget and Policy Center worked with Casey for a year helping to shape and review the project.
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Researchers scored each of five racial or ethnic groups for a dozen indicators of child well-being and indicators of future success, including the percentage of babies born at normal birth weight, eighth-grade math proficiency, children who live in two-parent households, incomes above poverty level, and percentage of children living in low-poverty areas.
The factors were scored from zero to a possible combined score for all categories of 1,000. No group hit 1,000. Nationally, black people scored 345, Latinos 404, white people 704, Asian/Pacific Islanders 776 and American Indian/Alaska Natives 387.
In Washington state, black, white and Native American residents did slightly better than the national scores, while Latino and Asian Americans scored a bit lower. The overall relationship among groups was the same as in the rest of the country.
Gould said Washington rarely makes national headlines in these kinds of reports because it doesn’t fall at the extremes, but he said parents here aren’t comparing Washington to other states. “It doesn’t matter if we are slightly better than Georgia or Tennessee,” Gould said. “What matters is we aren’t meeting our own potential.”
He said, “The finding that we as adults are failing many of our children, and we are particularly failing children of color, is alarming.”
The report reveals inequalities of opportunity that any of us should find troubling. But the report also makes it easy to pick out patterns that suggest solutions.
At least a third of black, Latino and American Indian children live in a household with an income level below the poverty line, the report found. It pointed to the large body of research that shows the many negative effects of growing up with chronic poverty. Members of those three groups are also most likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, which presents another set of barriers to opportunity.
Sili Savusa, executive director of the White Center Community Development Association, one of the people asked for input on the report, told me some of the same barriers affect Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian immigrants, but their circumstances don’t always show up in the data because studies lump them in with Asian-American groups that have different histories and access to opportunities.
The report lists past and present discriminatory policies, attitudes and policies that affect some groups disproportionately. And it pointed to successful and promising solutions, including King County government’s “use of equity impact assessments to guide government decisions, policies and practices.”
It might seem like common sense to look at potential impacts on different demographic groups before making a decision or adopting a policy, but making it a part of institutional practice is the only way to assure that it happens.
We have other work in progress that should increase opportunities for children in our community and state.
Seattle Public Schools has begun addressing the disproportionate use of discipline against its black and Latino students in its schools.
This month the Seattle City Council is to consider placing a measure before voters that would fund high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the city.
And the City Council is studying raising the minimum wage, which would reduce household poverty.
On the private side, the Bezos Family Foundation has launched a project called Vroom, to give parents in South King County parenting tips based on the latest child brain-development research, some of it done here at the University of Washington.
Gould said we should be “protecting our future prosperity as a state by giving our children the opportunity they deserve.”
And so should the nation. In that international test I mentioned, American students did especially well in one significant category, problem solving. That’s good, because we have critical problems waiting to be addressed, and it is in all our interests that every child can be part of solving them.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org