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Data on child well-being: How does the nation measure up?

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Data on child well-being: How does the nation measure up?

Understanding how our youth are faring is an important aspect of not only reinforcing, but also strengthening the supports that afterschool provides. Two separate reports released this summer delved into the state of child well-being across the country, measuring our nation’s progress over time.   The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2019 Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being provides a detailed overview of national and state trends, while Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates, authored by Civic and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, investigates the discrepancies in teen graduation.

For the past three decades, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been tracking the demographic and geographic changes within the youth population–elevating data as a tool to think about how to ensure the happiness and healthiness of all children in our nation. The latest edition of the Kids Count Data Book examines the growth and changes in child population by looking at 16 index measures of child well-being across four domains: health, education, family and community, and economic well-being. By outlining trends in the American childhood experience, the Kids Count Data Book highlights the areas we are on track, and where there is room for growth.

Since 1990, the nation’s child population has grown to almost 74 million. Accompanying this growth are a number of developments that the Casey Foundation have identified as promising improvements in the well-being of youth and their families. Looking at changes over the past seven years alone, Kids Count data shows that on a national level, there are more parents with secure employment (73 percent), more children with access to health insurance (95 percent), more teens graduating high school on time (85 percent), fewer teen pregnancies, and fewer children living in poverty (18 percent).

Nonetheless, Kids Count has identified key areas where progress can still be made. Most poignant is the trend of racial inequity that has persisted across domains in their evaluation of child-wellbeing, such that children of color are more likely to remain below the national average despite the social and economic gains they achieve. To put this into perspective, Kids Count data studies the number of eighth-grade public school students who do not meet the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s standards of proficiency in math. Between 2009 and 2017, African-American and Latino students showed improvements in math achievement, with percentages of eighth graders not proficient in math dropping down to 87 percent and 80 percent respectively. However, these rates are still far above the national average of 67 percent, and even more so from their White peers, of which only 57 percent are not proficient. This equity gap raises important concerns for a nation in which nearly half of its population (47 percent) are children of color. 

GradNation echoes similar sentiments about the equity gap in their annual report on high school graduation rates. According to Building a Grad Nation, a record number of students are graduating high school on time (85 percent). However, this graduation rate is uneven across demographic groups, with White and affluent students persistently graduating at higher rates. GradNation explains that in order to meet its campaign goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students by 2020, it is critical to see graduation rates rise within specific demographic subgroups—namely students of color, low-income students, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and homeless students. Adding another level of complexity to this issue, GradNation reveals out that while the vast majority of students already attend high schools with a 90 percent graduation rate, the students who do attend low-graduation-rate high schools (67 percent graduation rate or lower) are disproportionately low-income students and students of color.

Afterschool programs have long been working towards alleviating the academic disparities that exist among our nation’s youth. Through a variety of enriching learning opportunities that range from robotics to community service, afterschool is reaching underserved communities and helping students make important academic and behavioral strides to reach their full potential. As the Casey Foundation and GradNation both point out, for students to continue to make education advances, our nation needs to keep prioritizing investments in education; and to help policy makers make decisions that benefit our children, we need good data.

The Casey Foundation identifies the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census as “a critical opportunity to collect data necessary to guide policymakers,” who use census data to allocate a wide scope of federal funding that amounts to more than $880 billion each year, including the 21st Century Community Learning Center initiative, the only federal funding stream that is dedicated to afterschool. According to Census Bureau estimates from the 2010 Census, approximately one million children were uncounted, and this is only looking at children 4 years of age and under. Outreach to families, particularly those who are typically left out of the census count, is just as important as ever, to ensure that all children receive the supports they need to improve their well-being.

To get more information about trends on child well-being, see 2019 State Trends in Child Well-Being and Building a Grad Nation.

Data on child well-being: How does the nation measure up?

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