How are our kids doing? That’s the question New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) has been asking in a series called “The First Decade: Early Childhood Disparities and the Future of N.H.’s Kids.”
So we’re taking a look at our New England neighbor to get a sense of how some of this region’s children are doing.
“When it comes to kids’ well-being, New Hampshire ranks high overall in survey after survey. But the real picture of how kids are faring goes deeper than that,” NHPR’s website explains. “Children in poor families continue to lose ground in everything from access to health care to quality education to opportunities to play sports.”
Worse, the opportunity gap between children from lower and higher ends of the income spectrum is likely to grow.
“On the whole, we’ve found that while children in New Hampshire are somewhat better off than those across the nation,” the website notes, “New Hampshire still has a growing trend in inequality in terms of poverty and family income, where low-income children and poor children are on the rise after decades of decline and income is pretty much all but stagnated for those in lower income groups in the past 50 years, but it has actually increased for families in higher income groups. This means that more and more, there is this likely growing gap in outcomes between worse- and better-off children in New Hampshire.”
The series covers five broad areas: home and family, health and nutrition, education, play, and politics and policies. The series’ webpages include links to the radio reports.
“New Hampshire is one of ten states that has no state-funded preschool program,” according to one series report. That’s $0 in New Hampshire compared to average state spending of $4,121.
The good news is that despite this lack of funding, “When it comes to attendance, New Hampshire’s numbers are stronger than most states, but fall well short of the universal preschool some are pushing for.
“According to Kids Count and U.S. Census data, New Hampshire ranks sixth in the overall in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds attending preschool, although just 54 percent of kids attended in the period reported, from 2011-2013. The national rate was 46 percent attendance in the same period.
“Among the state’s poorest preschool-age kids — those at 200 percent of the poverty level or below — the state ranks eighth, with 43 percent attending, compared to the national rate of 37 percent.”
How’s New Hampshire doing with kindergarten? NHPR asks several key players.
“Many children start their formal education in Kindergarten. To what extent does money matter before children even start school?” NHPR asked Greg Duncan, a University of California-Irvine education professor who co-edited the book “Whither Opportunity” with Richard J. Murnane.
Duncan responded: “We know that if we compare the reading levels and math levels for high- and low-income kids, kids in the top and bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, there’s a huge gap right in the fall of kindergarten. It’s more than a year’s worth of learning in both math and reading, so low-income kids are starting out well behind high-income kids and that gap has increased quite substantially over the last 30 or 40 years.”
For a separate report, NHPR interviewed New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, asking: “We are one of a handful of states without a state-funded pre-K program. Is that something that’s even on the radar for you right now or are there just too many constraints?”
The governor’s answer: “Full-day kindergarten would be a very important next step in making sure our young people have the kind of education that really prepares them for the 21st-century global economy. We also know that pre-kindergarten programs are really important for our young people. The research is really conclusive and you see Republican and Democratic governors investing in early childhood education.”
Hassan adds: “In New Hampshire, where we don’t have state funding for a lot of early childhood education programs right now, we are working really creatively. Local school districts are working, for instance, with local early preschool providers to make sure we’re all engaged in best practices and helping our young people as early as possible.
“But in the future, I think as we build on the foundation of what we’ve done in the last two years, we certainly will have the opportunity to invest more in early childhood education and we know that’s really important for the future of our state and the future of our families.”
Other reports in the series look at early education and how full-day kindergarten has expanded in the state. And “with the rise of ‘pay to play’ sports in school, and the virtual disappearance of affordable neighborhood piano lessons, there’s an increasing gap in the ability of kids from poor families to participate in organized enrichment.”
“Poor Quality Housing = Poor Health”
From asthma attacks to income levels, housing and neighborhoods matter, according to one series report, which notes:
“‘We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.’ Winston Churchill said that in an address to Parliament in 1944, and it remains true today.”
That’s why the series looks at “how the environmental and familial circumstances a child’s first ten years can influence — even determine — their later lives.”
In this report, Kathy Dorgan, an architect and urban planner, points to a recent Harvard University study that “looked at where children live and what kind of opportunities come their way as a basis of where they live.” So “if someone lived in New Hampshire in an average community, average opportunity and they moved to Baltimore… which is not an area of high opportunity, their long term prospects for the household income, for a boy, would decrease by 1.39% for every year that they lived in Baltimore.” The lifetime effect: “if someone lived there their whole childhood they might make a third of what they would make if they’d stayed in a community of average opportunity.”
Politics and Policy
“The rhetoric is flying among presidential hopefuls,” NHPR says in this report, “wealth inequality, working men and women, stagnant wages, the opportunity gap, earned success. But though is everyone is talking about this, division remains wide over the causes and solutions.”
In addition to the talk, there’s also action on the ground.
“The Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire has done a nationwide, state-level analysis of various indicators of opportunity based on socioeconomic status, a project supported by the NH Charitable Foundation and inspired by Robert Putnam’s book.”
In addition: “NH Listens, a civic engagement program at the Carsey School, has hosted 12 conversations on opportunity gap around the state. A report summarizing residents’ thoughts in those meetings will be available early this summer.”
To learn more, check out this sweeping series of reports on New Hampshire’s efforts. As Governor Hassan says:
“Critical to our economy is our capacity to unleash the talent and energy of every single person among us. That’s the key to a democracy. If we can do that, then any child, regardless of circumstance, has the chance to learn what they’re good at, to learn the kind of skills that will support them, and then will allow them to raise a family where those kids have an even brighter future than their parents had.”