I just read something really scary: "The State of America's Children," the 2011 report from the Children's Defense Fund. The problems it cites aren't new, but too often we don't address them because our focus isn't what's best for the kids.

The fictional version of an apocalyptic future often has as its catalyst an alien invasion, or ravenous zombies, but in reality, the most likely cause would be shortsightedness.

I just read something really scary: “The State of America’s Children,” the 2011 report from the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). The problems it cites aren’t new, but too often we don’t address them because our focus isn’t what’s best for the kids. Two recent stories come to mind, a report on the atrocious disciplinary rate in Texas public schools, and rampant cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta public schools. In both cases, adults focused more on their own needs than on the needs of children.

The CDF report summarized the problems millions of children face:

“Millions of poor children of color are at increased risk of dying before their first birthday, living in poverty and extreme poverty, being uninsured and in poor health, lagging behind in early childhood development, lacking a quality education, dropping out of school and being excluded by zero-tolerance school discipline policies, being stuck in foster care without permanent families, ending up in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, being caught in the high-school and college completion gap, being unemployed or being killed by guns. A Cradle to Prison Pipeline haunts them from birth to adulthood.”

We know the problems exist, and even know some ways to address them, but few of us have the patience for the complex solutions required to deal with complicated problems. When I wrote last week about the killing of a teenager by another teenager in Seattle, one reader asked: What do you expect us white people to do? We’ve already built jails and prisons (for young black people).

Most people weren’t as thoughtless. But people too often reach for the quick fix rather than digging down to make real change.

The study of school discipline in Texas found almost 60 percent of students were given punishments ranging from in-school suspension to expulsion from school at least once between seventh and 12th grades.

Punishment instead of growth. It’s a lot easier for the adults. This study happened to be done in Texas, but the picture is similar in most of the country.

Research has shown that students dealt with that way do worse in school, are more likely to drop out and are more likely to wind up in the juvenile-justice system. But the policies are clear, simple and easy for grown-ups whose primary goal is maintaining discipline.

As in other states, black male students were most likely to be disciplined.

In Atlanta, educators encouraged cheating on standardized tests, to make the district look good. Rather than help children learn, many educators took a shortcut, a quick fix to solve their own problem, which was image, rather than helping the children solve theirs, getting a good education.

People do what they are rewarded for doing. The educators were rewarded for posting high test scores, not for improving children’s lives. Don’t think Atlanta is the only place where cheating happens. The same pressure is being felt all over the country.

It’s hard to educate children who start out with extra challenges — often the case with children from poor families. And it gets harder the longer deficiencies remain unaddressed, which is why it is so important to start as early as possible.

What is proven to work is support for economically stressed families, high-quality early education, teachers trained to deal with cultural and class differences.

To write a better script we need to make kids’ needs a priority in our goals and in our budgets.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.