February 2008 Upfront

News Analysis
Hard times for today’s teens, families
How are today’s teens faring in school and in life? Not too well, if you examine a flurry of reports and surveys released in December.

The reports, which look at families, sex education, drug use, crime, and teen ethics, point to some disturbing trends about the state of today’s youth. But there are a few encouraging signs as well.

The largest report, a study by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) titled The Family: America’s Smallest School, said poverty, poor home life, and inadequate day care and maternity leave could be to blame for poor student performance.

According to the report, states with the lowest test scores were those that had the most single-parent families, high absentee rates among middle school students, and low percentages of students who are being read to on a regular basis. The report says children who enter school at age 5 already academically behind rarely close the learning/skills gap before they get out of high school.

“Kids start school from platforms of different heights and teachers don’t have a magic wand they can wave to get kids on the same platform,” Richard J. Coley, director of ETS’ policy information center, told the New York Times. “If we’re really interested in raising overall levels of achievement and in closing the achievement gap, we need to pay as much attention to the starting line as we do to the finish line.”

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