More than 70 million children live in America and about 7 million of them live here in Texas.
If half of these children under the age of 5 already live in poverty, how can we guarantee their success in adulthood?
What is it going to take? How can we ensure all of our children have a bright future?
These are daunting questions, but it really breaks down into just a few key steps.
Early education is the first step. Children need to be ready for kindergarten, not just ready to start learning in kindergarten.
When some low-income kids enter kindergarten, they are already behind their more affluent peers in reading skills.
Data shows that 63 percent of low-income children ages 3 to 4 are not enrolled in prekindergarten, compared to 45 percent of children from families with higher incomes.
Making high-quality early education accessible to all is the first step to closing this achievement gap.
To keep the achievement gap closed, we also need quality public schools. According to scores on ACT benchmark exams, only 25 percent of students are college ready at the end of high school.
In Texas cities, dropout rates reach as high as 60 percent in some schools. In order to increase the quality of education, all schools should adopt the common characteristics of Texas’ top-performing schools — effective teachers with a missionary zeal, high expectations, strong and collaborative school leadership, data informed decision making and most importantly — more class time.
What does more class time mean? It means we must embrace a longer school day or longer school year.
Getting students to pursue and complete some form of higher education should be another priority.
It is no secret that less education means lower wages, yet Texas is in the bottom quartile in the nation for college enrollment.
A recent study showed that only 22 percent of eighth graders in Texas went on to complete a four-year degree, two-year degree or career certificate.
This does not jibe with the estimate that up to 60 percent of jobs will require a certificate or degree by 2020.
In addition to education, we must also ensure that children have access to healthy food.
Data shows that unhealthy eating habits in childhood impact a student’s ability to learn. However, children living in areas of concentrated poverty are more likely to be deprived of access to affordable, healthy food.
School lunch and breakfast programs are key solutions to this problem, but low rates of utilization in Texas need to be addressed.
Educating parents is both the final and first step. Parents are the most influential people in the lives of children, serving as teachers, counselors and role models.
Increasing access to evidence-based parent education can help parents understand child development, manage misbehavior, and improve family communication.
These benefits result in decreased rates of social, emotional and behavioral problems in children and increased school readiness and academic performance.
It is up to us to ensure that all children have a bright future. Good public policies and evidence-based practices in education, food access and parenting are high yield investments for success.
Dr. Bob Sanborn is president and CEO of Children at Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy group.