Monthly Archives: August 2013
|August 20, 2013||Posted by M. P. under Budget, Education, Research||
As we approach the start of another school year, students in Pennsylvania may find themselves returning to fewer elective classes (even in math science and English), increased class sizes, old textbooks, suspension of field trips, and fewer teachers and staff due to furloughs and hiring freezes. These intended changes, from a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, also include, 22 percent of districts cutting tutoring programs for students (just under a third – 32 percent – did the same for the 2012-13 school year), and 13 percent of districts ending summer school programs for 2013-14, as did 21 percent last year.
While the enormous impact of the recession prompted serious budgetary reviews, from the dinner table to the halls of the State Capitol, the reduction in education funding has hit urban schools first, and worst. While fingers point at various “causes of the problem” and some argue the problem doesn’t exist but for mismanagement, the financial shortfall, at least in urban Pennsylvania schools, appears to be a mixture of shrinking tax bases, shrinking enrollment, ever-increasing per-pupil spending, and bureaucratic administrations, coupled with reductions in funding from the Commonwealth. Still, cutting programs (like tutoring) that are designed to help struggling students seems to only contribute to the achievement gap that already exists between schools in poorer areas and their more affluent counterparts.
The report, Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward by Richard J. Coley of Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker, examines the connection between poverty and life outcomes, including success in education and future employment. The researchers note the academic achievement gap is larger between poor and not poor than between races, with those living in extreme poverty lagging most behind peers in cognitive performance. Poverty is also associated with outcomes of less schooling, lower income, and higher likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system. The impact of poverty on educational quality is illustrated in the brief, The Impact of Teacher Experience, Examining the Evidence and Policy Implications by Jennifer King Rice, through a discussion of data that indicate high-poverty schools have teachers with the least experience and, according to some studies, a lower level of effectiveness. A National Center on Educational Evaluation brief reports that, overall, poorer students had unequal access to the highest quality teachers (although the study on just 10 districts is not generalizable).
Lest one think such relationships have little bearing on their local schools, the issue of poverty and education is no longer just a concern for city residents as the 2000’s saw a shift in the distribution of families living below the poverty line. Suburbs are the fastest growing pockets of poverty in the country, according to the book Confronting Suburban Poverty in America by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube. Over the last decade, the population of poor in the suburbs grew by 64 percent and at a brisker pace than in many of their regional cities. According to Kneebone and Berube, there are more poor people living in the suburbs now than anywhere else in America.
This past year, school districts – urban and suburban – have dealt with budget issues by challenging mandates that limited the number of students to teachers in a classroom, removing access to or increasing participation fees for extracurricular activities, and reducing the number of available courses. A cursory read of the trends in income, funding steams and predicted economic growth suggests that even the more affluent districts won’t be able to escape the experience of severe budget cuts and need for increased tax revenues for too much longer.
|August 11, 2013||Posted by M. P. under Children and Family, Health, News||
As has been widely reported over the past week, obesity rates among preschoolers have declined nationwide according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announcing the results of a study of children aged 2 to 4 in 40 states or territories who were enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Three states, including Pennsylvania, have seen an increase, while 21 reported no change. The trend of obesity in preschoolers increased in the early 2000’s, stabilized by 2008, and as of the latest data from 2011, has declined in 19 states/territories.
Although the increase is statistically significant, it should be noted that the rate in Pennsylvania has increased by less than 1 percent (.7%) since 2008 – with an additional 8,045 preschoolers classified as obese in 2011 than in 2008. The trend appears to be stable but not yet reversed in Pennsylvania as other data show little variability in obesity rates of school-age children over the last 5 years. According to the Growth Screens and BMI-for-Age data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, statewide 16.7 percent of Kindergarten through Grade Six students were at or above the 95th percentile (considered obese) in the 2010-2011 school year – about the same proportion as in 2006-2007. In the same year in the Southwestern district of the state, 16.7 percent of K-6 students were at or over the 95th percentile in weight, 15.3 percent in Allegheny County.
Obesity rates among preschoolers and school-age youth matter as they not only impact one’s health but also have an economic impact. Children who are overweight are 5 times more likely to be overweight as adults than those within a healthy weight range. The Pennsylvania Obesity Prevention and Wellness Program has introduced several initiatives and strategies to address this issue, including educating pediatricians, programs to increase walking and bicycling to schools, and partnerships to improve school nutrition, as well as campaigns to improve safety on walking paths and tobacco-free environments in parks and playgrounds.
Photo by Lisafern (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
|August 2, 2013||Posted by M. P. under Behavorial Health, Research||
What is the relationship between military deployment and employment upon returning home? How does wartime service impact the future earnings of veterans? Is there a link between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and unemployment?
A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Unemployment among Recent Veterans during the Great Recession by Jason Faberman and Taft Foster, found that recent veterans have higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans or older veterans. Taking demographic variables and economic cycles into consideration, the report concludes that the rigors and aftereffects of wartime deployment do have an impact on employment upon return.
A technical report from RAND, takes a closer look at one of the potential impacts of serving during a conflict, namely PTSD, among reservists and post-deployment employment earnings. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Earnings of Military Reservists by David S. Loughran and Paul Heaton (e-book is available for download at the RAND website), examines data on PTSD symptoms in reservists completing deployments from 2003 to 2006 and labor market data in an effort to determine a relationship to employment earnings. The data initially indicated that reservists with symptoms of PTSD earned less income the year following their return than their counterparts not experiencing symptoms. Additional analysis showed that some differences were present prior to deployment, specifically lower average earnings and a lower level of education. Further, the researchers found that the gap in employment earnings was greatly minimized (down to a range of 1% – 4%) through the accounting for demographic variables and use of statistical models.
Although the gap in earnings between reservists symptomatic of PTSD post-deployment and those who were not is much smaller than initially indicated, the report suggests that there may be a relationship between PTSD symptoms and underemployment. Also, the authors note that their study focused primarily on the first year post-deployment, and some manifestations of PTSD may occur at a later point in time.
PTSD makes up 65 percent of the disability claims of recent veterans, according to a 2013 survey from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Half of the IAVA survey respondents had friends or family suggest that they seek treatment for a mental health injury, while 37 percent of members knew a veteran who had committed suicide and just under a third (30 percent) had considered it themselves. Although the data on the relationship between PTSD and unemployment is mixed, the challenge to find work while being open about experiencing PTSD is a real one. The dialogue and the research need to continue.