July 2010 Reports

Adolescents and risky behavior
Adolescents who are exposed to repeated changes in a parent’s marital status and experience family instability are more likely to become sexually active early, become parents outside of marriage, or engage in delinquency, according to a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. White and Mexican-American adolescents who experience family instability seem particularly at risk, and they are more prone than their black adolescent peers to early sexual activity and unwed parenthood.

Changing metropolitan demographics 
Social trends and changing demographics have transformed America’s metropolitan areas over the past decade. The suburbs are no longer bastions of middle-class, married, white couples and their families -- increasingly, they are home to immigrants, minorities, poor people, and senior citizens. A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, The State of Metropolitan America, says that the U.S. faces five “new realities”: population growth and expanding metropolitan areas, population diversification, an aging population, uneven higher educational attainment, and income polarization.

Childhood obesity
The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President recommends improving school food in four major areas: quality of school meals; changes in foods available so that all food sold at school supports healthful diets; modifications to curriculum, school program operations, community policies and infrastructures to match changes in school foods; and revisions to policies and practices in juvenile justice and other institutional settings so that all childhood and youth environments support healthy eating.

Children at risk
2008 saw the lowest rate of child victimization in five years, says a new analysis of survey results from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. 2008’s rate of 10.3 per 1,000 children is the lowest since the survey began in 1990, and is a sharp decline from 1993’s peak rate of 15.3. Eighty percent of the abusers were parents, and more were women (56.2 percent) than men (42.6 percent).

Expanded learning time
Ninety percent of the expanded learning time (ELT) schools surveyed for a new Center for American Progress brief say that ELT is an essential component in meeting their educational goals. Supporters of ELT say that the standard school calendar of 180 6.5 hour days does not fit many students’ needs, especially English language learners and those beginning the school year below grade level. ELT proponents recommend that 300 additional hours be added to U.S. school calendars.

Gender performance gaps
Boys’ lagging performance in reading is schools’ most pressing gender-gap issue, according to research from the Center on Education Policy. In some states, 10 percent fewer boys than girls are proficient in reading, a trend that is consistent across those states’ elementary, middle, and high school levels. The study shows that the elementary reading gap widened in 14 states and narrowed in 24. But boys did not outperform girls in reading at any achievement level in any state.

Gender wage gap
Women now comprise 50 percent of the work force, and their earnings are increasingly critical to their families’ economic survival. A new report from the Center for American Progress says that, in 42 states, more than six in 10 families with children have a woman as the breadwinner or co-breadwinner. Yet women still earn less than men do. On average, a full-time, full-year, working woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, losing $431,000 over her career.

This spring’s high school graduates face the worst job market in a quarter century, says a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Unemployment among young high school graduates averaged 22.5 percent over the past year, up from 12 percent in 2007. The number of young people neither employed nor enrolled in school has likewise increased to 17.7 percent, up from 14.5 percent in 2007. Restrictive eligibility rules often make these young workers ineligible for unemployment insurance.

Latino children
A new data book from the National Council of La Raza and the Population Reference Bureau offers an overview of state and national trends for Latino children relative to non-Hispanic white and black children since 2000. Fifty-nine percent of Latino children live in low-income families in high-poverty neighborhoods, despite the efforts of their hardworking parents. While 92 percent of these children are U.S. citizens, 58 percent of them live in immigrant families, which limits their access to education and health services.

Mothers are more educated today. A study from the Pew Research Center says 54 percent of American women reported at least some college education in 2006, up from 41 percent in 1990. Mothers are also less likely to be white and less likely to be married now than two decades ago. Fifty-three percent of mothers were white in 2008, down from 65 percent in 1990. A record 41 percent of all births in 2008 were to unmarried women.

Preschool programs and the recession
Enrollment in state-funded preschools increased over the past year, but state funding per child declined in 24 of 38 states with programs. The results of an annual survey conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research shows that the average amount states spent per child in preschool programs declined to $4,143 in 2009, down from $4,179 in 2008. Enrollment among 4-year-olds in preschool programs in the year prior to kindergarten is about 74 percent.

A brief from the Calder Center synthesizes new findings on principal effectiveness. It shows that more effective principals can staff their schools with more effective teachers; experience is a predictor of principal effectiveness; principal effectiveness depends partly on how time is allocated across daily responsibilities and on a sense of efficacy; principals’ subjective evaluations of teachers offer valuable information on teacher performance; and that, while principal quality is most important in high-poverty, low-performing schools, these schools have lower-quality principals.

Teachers and technology
Ninety-seven percent of teachers participating in a 2009 federal survey on educational technology availability and use in public elementary and secondary schools said that they had one or more computers available in their classroom every day. Ninety-three percent of those classroom computers had Internet access. Forty percent of the teachers surveyed reported that they or their students used the computers during instruction time “often.” The ratio of students to computers in the classrooms was 5.3 to 1.

Teens and cell phones
Cell phones now function as communications hubs for American teens, according to the latest report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Seventy-five percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, up from 45 percent in 2004. Teens call their parents on their cell phones, but text their friends. Fifty-four percent of teens send texts daily. One in three teens -- mostly girls 14 to 17 -- sends more than 100 texts every day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.

Transition to adulthood
Young Americans are living at home longer, are earning lower wages, and rely on their parents for financial support -- behaviors more like the young adults of a hundred years ago than those of their baby-boomer parents.

A new study published in Transition to Adulthood finds that parents currently spend 10 percent of their annual income shoring up their grown children’s adult lives. This could overwhelm impoverished families, or those whose security is undermined by the recession. 

 -- Compiled by Margaret Suslick, editorial assistant