Report Reveals Third-Graders Falling Behind

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

"Nurturing is one of the founding things in helping a child be successful in life, and not just in school. It goes beyond school. It goes into your career, it goes into what type of mother you'll be."

-Cameo King of N.E.O.N. Lansing

Only one in three third-graders has the skills necessary to become a successful adult.

It might sound harsh, but those are the shocking findings from a new report out Monday.

Yet many consider early childhood education a simple math equation.

"The earlier you start, the better your outcomes," said Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

But increasingly, that early start isn't happening. The report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation tracked 13,000 children in the U.S. who were in kindergarten from 1998 to 1999. By third grade, only 36 percent of them were on track in their cognitive development, and many ask why?

"Twenty years ago we had a lot of supports in place for families affected by economic downturns, now we've reduced substantially access to those programs, as well as the benefits in those programs," Zehnder-Merrell said.

The study finds children in low-income families are even further behind -- just 19 percent were on track by third grade. In Michigan, half of the kids aged birth to eight years live well below the poverty level.

"We do need more revenue," Zehnder-Merrell said. "We have higher need, we have a more complex society."

She said more money would help, but it's not the only answer. What happens inside the classroom is just as important as outside the classroom, and local groups like "Nurturing Early On is Necessary," or N.E.O.N., are trying to raise awareness

"Nurturing is one of the founding things in helping a child be successful in life, and not just in school," said Cameo King of N.E.O.N. "It goes beyond school. It goes into your career, it goes into what type of mother you'll be."

N.E.O.N. is working to shift the focus onto family and community support in Lansing, because when it comes to early childhood education, everyone should be involved.

"It takes an entire community," King said. "We don't just want to give it one shot in the arm."

The study also found that 61 percent of low-income three- and four-year-olds in Michigan are not enrolled in pre-school. Nationally it's 63 percent, and according to the report, those kids often don't meet key milestones and they struggle to keep up in school.

There are three broad policy issues the study recommends to improve on these issues. The first one starts with supporting parents, like making services for low-income families more accessible. The report also says more programs for birth through eight-year-olds would help change things, and developing a data system to track children's progess would make transitions more seamless.

The League for Public Policy said Michigan is moving in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work to be done.


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