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blues mapHow is Massachusetts doing on third-grade reading proficiency? And how, specifically, are third graders in your community doing?

Strategies for Children’s (SFC) newly updated infographics webpage make it easy to see how reading skills and achievement play out across the state. These images and graphs can be shared online or printed out and distributed at meetings. The data originates from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and can be explored in detail on the department’s website.

As we blogged last month, scores on the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) have been stagnant.

In a statement, Chris Martes, SFC’s president and CEO, wrote, “The 2014 MCAS scores show that the state’s third grade reading proficiency rates have not changed since last year. This year, as in 2013, 43 percent of third grade students did not score proficient in reading. That’s roughly 29,000 children who did not meet this crucial educational benchmark.”

“The consequences of reading failure at this age are significant. Struggling readers are four times less likely to graduate high school on time than proficient readers, jeopardizing their prospects for participating in our global knowledge-based economy.” (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Parents know that early education and child care are expensive. But for a refresher on just how expensive, the Boston Globe recently featured a 50-state map of child care costs across the nation. As the Globe explains, Massachusetts is among the least affordable states with an annual cost of $12,176 for 4-year-olds and $16,430 for infants. Compared to “the state median income for married couples, Massachusetts is the fourth least-affordable state for center-based infant care in the country.”

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America, the data source for the Globe’s map, explains just how high these costs are across the country.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 10 percent of family income for child care as a benchmark for affordable care,” according to Child Care Aware’s “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2013 Report.” (more…)

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“We lead the nation in terms of reading proficiency by fourth graders. Forty-seven percent of our fourth graders are proficient readers. But that means 53 percent are not. And we can’t leave half of our children behind if we want to build a truly strong economy and a healthy society. So we still have a lot of work to do in Massachusetts, but we know how to do it, and we’ve made real progress here…

“There are reasons why we now rank first for overall child well-being. And a big part of that reason is that in Massachusetts we work together. Ordinary citizens, our extraordinary nonprofit community, businesses and labor, child advocates, and our government.”

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, at the release of the KIDS COUNT Data Book in Boston, July 22, 2014

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14359821987_be01fd4731_mYesterday, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of its KIDS COUNT Data Book, a statistical look at children’s well-being.

The report shows that, “Children have a greater opportunity to thrive and succeed in Massachusetts than in any other state,” according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), the home of KIDS COUNT here in the commonwealth.

This is exciting news for Massachusetts, but it comes with an important caveat: There is still much more work to do.

The Massachusetts KIDS COUNT data profile reports that 15 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty in 2012. And despite being first in the nation in education and fourth grade reading, 53 percent of this state’s fourth graders cannot read proficiently. Thirty percent of children have parents who don’t have secure jobs. And while an impressive 99 percent of Massachusetts’s children have health insurance, it’s also true that this state’s children are as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as children across the country.

MassBudget released the new data yesterday at an event hosted by Nurtury (formerly Associated Early Care and Education) in its brand new Learning Lab in Jamaica Plain where Governor Deval Patrick spoke, along with state legislators, local leaders, and Chris Martes, Strategies for Children’s new president and CEO. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Last month, President Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” a promising, new initiative to help “every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.”

As part of his announcement for the initiative, the president highlighted early learning, touching on research on the early vocabulary gap, kindergarten readiness, and third grade reading proficiency.

For Obama, the initiative is personal. At the event launching the initiative, the president talked about growing up without a father and about his own poor choices, including drug use and taking school less seriously than he could have.

“The only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving,” the president said. He had the support of his mother and grandparents as well as encouragement from a community that gave him second and third chances. “They never gave up on me. And so I didn’t give up on myself.”

Joining the president is a group of foundations that have united to support the new initiative. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — have made a $150 million commitment to “My Brother’s Keeper,” and they will be working over the next three months to design a strategy and infrastructure for these investments. (more…)

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Source: Child Trends

Hillary Clinton has spent decades pounding the podium on behalf of children. Now the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has asked her and other notable figures to share their favorite graphs of the year and explain why they chose them. Clinton’s choice highlights the power of adult interactions with children.

Why ask for a favorite graph? Wonkblog essentially says it’s joining the crowd: “Time has its ‘Person of the Year.’ Amazon has its books of the year. Pretty Much Amazing has its mixtapes of the year.” For Wonkblog, the subject is graphs that illustrate important issues in public policy.

Clinton’s favorite graph is titled “Percentage of Children, Ages Birth through Two, Who Had A Family Member Read, Sing, or Tell Them Stories Everyday in the Past Week, by Poverty Level: 2011/12.

“We want to help all parents give their kids a good start in school and in life. That’s what this graph is all about,” Clinton writes. (more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

The drumbeat is getting louder: public investments should focus on birth to eight – those crucial years when children undergo emotional, social, academic and neurological development that can prepare them for lifelong success.

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation weighed in on the birth to eight landscape in a KIDS COUNT policy paper, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.”

“Behind a toddler’s soft features and halting first steps, an unseen, but extremely high-stakes, activity is taking place – the building of a brain,” the policy paper says. “What happens to children during those crucial first years will determine whether their maturing brain has a sturdy foundation or a fragile one.”

Ideally, these early years of brain development should be promoted through public policies and investments. But as Casey’s policy paper says, in these early years when children’s brains race ahead, federal funding lags behind. Federal spending is at its lowest when children are young; and since 2010, this spending has dropped and could fall to Depression-era levels.

The sad result is that too many young children don’t get the support they need. According to Casey’s paper, “by age 8, most children in the United States are not on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, and many lag in the areas of social and emotional growth, physical well-being and engagement in school.”

Only 36 percent of the nation’s third graders’ score are at or above average on math, reading and science assessments, according to a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. And only 56 percent maintain a healthy weight and are in excellent or very good health.

High quality early education and care programs can “contribute to the healthy development of young children, especially those who are in low-income families,” the policy paper says. “However, 63 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds were not attending a preschool program, compared with 45 percent of their more affluent counterparts.” Rates vary “from a high of 78 percent of low-income children not attending preschool in Nevada, to a low of 45 percent in New Jersey,” where a court order has created more access.

Assessment scores, health status and preschool attendance tend to be worse for children from low-income families – and some 48 percent of the nation’s 17 million children are considered low income. The chances of living in poverty are highest in Mississippi and lowest in Massachusetts.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal analysis shows that “just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills,” according to a Casey Foundation press release, which adds, “This picture is particularly troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development. Children who don’t meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time and are less likely to achieve the kind of economic success and stability necessary to support a family themselves.”

“Fortunately, children who do not receive the stimulation and care they need for healthy growth and development can catch up if they receive appropriate interventions,” the policy paper explains.

What can be done? Casey makes three recommendations:

1. “Support parents as they care for their children.” Good examples of supportive efforts include home visiting programs and screenings for maternal depression as well as improved access to food stamps and employment programs.

2. “Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.” States that haven’t already done so should adopt early learning standards, use Quality Rating and Improvement systems, and help parents make informed choices about early education and care programs. States should also provide voluntary, full-day pre-K.

3. “Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children.” Children and families need “better integration and transitions among early education, K–12, health care and family support systems.”

Inspired by the Casey report, MassBudget (the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, home to the Massachusetts KIDS COUNT project) released a brief on the importance of mental health screenings for mothers and children that praises Massachusetts for its leadership in this area.

As local, state and federal policy makers press forward, Casey’s policy paper advises them to “look to the decades of evidence on best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts.”

It is evidence that can be used to “make the case for a comprehensive and integrated birth through age 8 system that ensures all children have a real chance to succeed and contribute to a stronger nation.”

The time to act is now.

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