Kids who start behind in school tend to stay behind – and drop out. Here’s an easy way to see it in NAEP Reading test. Half as many lower income kids in New Hampshire are proficient at reading in the 4th grade. By the 12th grade, The Gap is the same.
Nicholas Kristoff writes today – Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy – NYTimes.com – about the complexities of fighting poverty in the United States. To tell the story, he goes to Jackson, Ky, in Central Appalachia, where my wife Mil and I spent a dozen years doing economic development and anti-poverty work.
Kristoff draws a painfully familiar and accurate picture of the challenges of fighting poverty, but also describes the painstaking early childhood development work that is so effective at closing The Gap:
Save the Children trains community members to make home visits to at-risk moms like Ms. Hurley, and help nurture the skills they need in the world’s toughest job: parenting. These visits begin in pregnancy and continue until the child is 3 years old.
I followed Courtney Trent, 22, one of these early childhood coordinators, as she visited a series of houses. She encourages the mothers (and the fathers, if they’re around) to read to the children, tell stories, talk to them, hug them. If the parents can’t read, then Ms. Trent encourages them to flip the pages on picture books and talk about what they see.
Ms. Trent brings a few books on each visit, and takes back the ones she had left the previous time. Many of the homes she visits don’t own a single children’s book.
She sat on the floor in Ms. Hurley’s living room, pulled a book out of her bag, and encouraged her to read to her 20-month-old son, Landon. Ms. Hurley said that she was never read to as a child, but she was determined to change the pattern.
“I just want him to go to school,” she said of Landon. “I want him to go to college and get out of this place.” Ms. Hurley said she was clean of drugs, working full time at a Wendy’s, and hoping to go back to school to become a nurse. I’d bet on her — and on Landon.
“When kids come to us through this program and come here, we can see a big difference,” Ron Combs, the principal at Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School here, told me. “They’re really ready to go. Otherwise, we have kids so far behind that they struggle to catch up.
“By second or third grade, you have a pretty good feeling about who’s going to drop out,” he added.
A group of teachers were in the room, and they all nodded. Wayne Sizemore, director of special education in Breathitt County, puts it this way: “The earlier we can get them, the better. It’s like building a foundation for a house.”
We’ve got a lot of kids in New Hampshire who would benefit from this kind of help.