Stateline Story

States Impact Child's Future

A child growing up in Virginia has the best chance of succeeding in life, while a child raised in New Mexico has the worst, according to a new report that predicts success by looking at children's formative years in each state, as well as student performance in a state's K-12 education system and beyond.

"Quality Counts 2007: From Cradle to Career ," the 11 th installment of Education Week 's annual report on state education reform, found that people who live in the South and Southwest will face the most obstacles to success, while those born in the Northeast and North Central states should expect fewer road blocks. The report was released Jan. 3.

The "Chance-for-Success Index" tracks 13 indicators, including seemingly non-education-related factors: the percentage of children who grow up in poverty, the percentage of children that have at least one parent with a college degree or a full-time job, and how many children have parents who are fluent in English. According to the report, research has shown that these factors influence how well students do in school.

" We know from a lot of research that students who are more socio-economically advantaged enter school, even kindergarten, well ahead of the curve compared to their poor peers," said Christopher B. Swanson, the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPE), Ed Week 's publisher. " Unfortunately, in many cases the gaps between rich and poor students don't narrow over the school years."

The index also looked at each state's enrollment in preschool and kindergarten, performance on a national exam in reading and math, and high school graduation rates.

For the first time in the "Quality Counts" series, postsecondary education (college participation and graduation rates) and workforce performance (annual income and job opportunities) were factors. Previous reports focused solely on K-12 education.

" People ' s chances for success don't just rest on what happened from kindergarten through high school, " said Lynn Olson, Ed Week ' s executive project editor. " They're also shaped by experiences during the preschool years and by the opportunities for continuing education and training beyond high school. "

Virginia was the overall highest scorer, based on its consistency in beating or tying the national average in all categories. Virginia children are more likely to have working parents who are fluent in English, and more of the state's adults have steady jobs.

Using these indicators, children in Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire should also have an easier path to success.

New Mexico, meanwhile, lagged in all indicators except kindergarten enrollment, where it almost matched the national average. Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama also scored low on the index.

New Mexico Education Secretary Veronica C. Garcia didn ' t deny the report ' s contents. "Unfortunately, this report reinforces what some people might expect from a border state with language and poverty barriers, and quite frankly what has been our own low expectations in the past for New Mexico's children," she said in a statement.

She added, though, that the state is addressing the deficiencies cited in the report, such as increasing access to preschool and full-day kindergarten.

The danger for states that perform poorly in the early childhood indicators is that children in those states begin their education at a social and economic disadvantage that is magnified as students move through inadequate school systems and eventually enter the workforce, the report said. The states that ranked in the bottom third of the index also had fewer adults with incomes at or above the national median.

The 2007 report also released an "Achievement Index," which measures how students in each state have performed on Advanced Placement exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, which tests a cross-section of students in each state. Massachusetts was the leader of that index.

EPE produced the report with support from the Pew Center on the States, which was originally the parent of Stateline.org , although the two organizations are now separate and independent. Both are funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Tags: Education