STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Report: Only a third of 8-year olds in the U.S. are at grade level

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

When it comes to making sure kids are at grade level, the U.S. isn't doing so hot. Just a little over a third (36%) of 8-year olds are cognitively on track by the time they reach 3rd grade, according to a new Kids Count analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

When you break it down by income, the numbers are even more staggering: 19% of 8-year olds who come from low-income families (defined as being at or below 200% of the poverty line) have "appropriate cognitive skills," compared to 50% of kids who come from wealthier families.

Race, too, plays a role. While nearly half of all white children have the age-appropriate cognitive skills, only 19% of Hispanic children and 14% of African American children are at level.

So what to do about this? Well, the folks behind the policy report call for "an integrated and comprehensive system of services" for all children birth through age 8. They've boiled it down to these three broad recommendations:

  1. Support parents as they care for their children. Things like home-visits, job training for parents, mental health services for parents and children
  2. Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services. Michigan made a big push with its $65 million increase to the Great Start Readiness Program for 4 year olds, but the Michigan League for Public Policy wants to see an increase in funding for programs targeted at 0 to 3 year olds.
  3. Ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8. According to the League, the state is well on its way to implementing a Quality Rating System to help parents navigate the many choices when it comes to early care and education programs.
Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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