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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Measure of America

How Does America Measure Up?

We all hear politicans yammering on about health care, poverty, inequality… but what is the actual state of our country? Readers of this blog probably have a sense of the gaps that show up in schools — between kids whose parents are all over them to do ten activities and get straight As, and parents who had little if any decent schooling themselves, and have no idea of how to help their kids. A team of reseachers from the Social Science Research Council decided to take official government statistics and trace out how this country is doing comparing health, education, welfare throughout the nation — at the congressional district level. So you can compare exactly where you live and work to any other place. Here is a summary of some of their findings, www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/jul/17/internationalaidanddevelopment.usa

I must admit I have glanced at the study — which is called The Measure of America — instead of reading it. But even in that quick take it is absolutely clear what a divided land we are. I say "are" rather than "have become" because I don’t know enough about previous periods to compare results. Take one fact, listed on page 104: "African-America and Latino children are 50% more likely to have repeated a grade by age nine than white children, yet there is no evidence that holding a child back has any academic benefits."

What do you think? I assumed that ending social promotion was a good thing — that having kids move along without learning was bad. But, first of all, this gap is astonishing. What are we doing wrong? What message are those parents not getting? Are teachers making the right decisions? And is it true that kids don’t gain by slowing down and reviewing material until they get it right? Is remediation so hard to achieve?

What is your experience? I understand that Columbia University Press, which is publishing the study, plans to create a teacher’s guide so that high school students can use this information when they study our government and its current challenges.