State faces disparities in children’s reading achievement
From press release
CHICAGO—In third and fourth grades, children make an important transition in their education—from learning to read to reading to learn. But in Illinois, reading scores at these grade levels have barely improved, and wide disparities among student groups remain; challenges are particularly great among the 45 percent of public school students who come from low-income families.
This year’s Illinois Kids Count data book focuses on the multiple factors that affect school success and the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of young children. Titled “Great at Eight,” the report also explores the challenges of investing in the “whole child” from birth to age 8.
Kathy Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children, said: “We know by now that addressing the needs of the whole child—through enriching early learning experiences, physical and mental health supports and strong families and communities—builds a foundation for success in school and throughout the rest of life. By the end of third grade, students need to be able to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Reading achievement for these children is one very important predictor of high school graduation rates, future earnings potential and other indicators of success.”
Only 47 percent of low-income students in Illinois were at or above the “basic” achievement level in fourth-grade reading, compared with 80 percent of other students, according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Among the 10 largest states, Illinois had the second-widest NAEP reading achievement gap between low-income students and other students.
This year’s Illinois Kids Count report highlights five major challenges to children’s learning that state and local policymakers must address as they formulate education policy: (For local findings, visit http://www.voices4kids.org/library/Local%20Findings.pdf).
• Reading achievement among Illinois children at the beginning of fourth grade has improved only modestly since 2003, and wide disparities remain among racial-ethnic groups and between low-income students and other students.
• In fall 2009, children from low-income families represented 45 percent of enrollment in Illinois public schools—up from 37 percent a decade earlier. Among the state’s largest school districts, low-income enrollment is above 70 percent in Chicago, Cicero, East St. Louis, Peoria, Rockford and Waukegan.
• Children who grow up in poverty have more limited early learning opportunities and are less likely to do well in school. The recession has led to a sharp rise in child poverty nationwide. In Illinois, the child poverty rate jumped from 17 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2009, which was the highest level since 1993. (The number of children in poverty increased from 525,000 in 2007 to 590,000 in 2009.) In 2009, almost 40 percent of Illinois children lived in low-income households (below 200 percent of poverty level), up from 36 percent only a year earlier.
• School readiness is affected by children’s health, as well as by the families and communities in which they live. Low-income children are more likely to have chronic health problems and developmental delays and suffer from trauma as a result of exposure to violence. They are more likely to be affected by family stress—especially in times of economic hardship—and less likely to live in safe and supportive neighborhoods.
• The state fiscal crisis threatens to further erode important investments in early childhood education and care, health insurance coverage, children’s mental health services, family supports and other essential programs and services. For example, participation in state-funded pre-K programs increased 70 percent between FY 2003 and FY 2009, but has declined in the past two years as a result of budget cuts and delayed payments to preschool providers.
According to Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman, supporting children’s learning from their earliest years reduces social costs, mainly in savings from later costs of lost earnings potential, poor health, incarceration, greater use of public benefits and other challenges that arise from lack of education.
“In the past decade, Illinois became a prominent national leader in early childhood care and education. But the national recession and state budget crisis have put this progress in serious jeopardy, and we’ve got to protect research-proven investments in the well-being of kids,” said Ryg. “Quality programs and services address far more than the needs of low-income children and families; they benefit everyone by producing a healthier, better-educated, more productive workforce and society.
“It makes good sense to build a strong bridge between children’s earliest years and their first four years of elementary school,” Ryg added. “Research demonstrates: This is how we use our limited resources wisely and encourage life-long learners.”
Illinois Kids Count 2011 presents data on a range of indicators related to the development of the whole child from birth to 8, including education, economic well-being, health and developmental factors affecting families and entire communities. The report also includes essays by policy experts, advocates and community leaders, who provide a broader context for understanding the major findings.
Illinois Kids Count is a project of Voices for Illinois Children and is part of a nationwide network of state-level projects supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The data book is regarded as the most thorough annual examination of children’s lives in the state. It uses the best available data to monitor the educational, social-emotional, economic and physical well-being of Illinois children. The entire report is available at www.voices4kids.org.
From the March 16-22, 2011, issue
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