100% Proficiency of all RI fourth graders: What will it
III. Compassionate, But Unflinching Assessments of our Students' Characteristics
Who are Rhode Islands Children?
Each state has a unique population with its own set of assets and challenges. Those states which score highest overall on the National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEPs) generally are states with no major urban centers and limited ethnic diversity among their population. Rural poverty is no more easily overcome than urban poverty, so all states face challenges. Still, it is important to take into account the challenges specific to Rhode Island and its children.
An Increase in Childhood Poverty
Between the school year 1990-91 and 1997-98, childhood poverty in the state of Rhode Island rose from 23% to 32%. In real numbers this is an increase from 31,719 children to 49,218. The increase in poverty especially during a time of economic prosperity is a result of numerous factors which include a high rate of Third World immigration to the state and such modern social dilemmas as the increasing rate of births to teenage mothers, the persistently high divorce rate and the effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
Recent changes in the welfare laws are prompting social service agencies to be more aggressive about moving dependent individuals and families to self-sufficiency. As a state, RI has resisted the more draconian methods of pushing families off the welfare roles and is a national model for employing supportive strategies for helping families to become rooted in economic self-sufficiency before leaving welfare. It is too early to tell if Rhode Islands strategy is successfully improving self-sufficiency in higher numbers with long-range effects on reducing childhood poverty.
Poverty as an Indicator of School Success
Understand first that prior achievement is the most powerful predictor of school success. Barring unforeseen circumstances, a child who is achieving academically will probably continue to achieve. This means that no matter what the familys circumstances, any child who consistently arrives at school adequately nourished, rested, healthy and feeling safe and stable will be able to acquire and accumulate learning. This is what we mean by "ready to learn." A childs readiness to learn, especially in the early years, positions that child for lifelong success with learning.
After prior achievement, research shows that poverty is by far the most powerful predictor of school success. Families struggling with obtaining the basics of survival tend not to have extra attention for supporting their childrens educations. Caring for an infant or young childs intellectual development is not a human instinct, and many economically-challenged families do not have the information or resources to maximize their childrens school readiness. Teachers report that increasing numbers of children do not come to school rested, well-fed, with high expectations of themselves or fully ready to learn. Poor learning readiness is by no means exclusive to children from low-income households, but poverty is the strongest factor, statistically, that threatens a childs school success.