Every year since 1990, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has put out a wealth of information on how children fare in the United States. The foundation’s Kids Count data compilations, policy and research reports train a long and steady gaze on the well-being of children nationally and in each state. Frequently, the hard facts expose the gulf between the realities different children confront and the efforts put forth to improve their lot.
The foundation chose this year to take a new tack, presenting for the first time the “Race for Results Index, a new collection of data disaggregated by racial and ethnic groups and by state to illustrate how far we are from positioning all kids for success in school and in life.”
The bottom-line conclusion? “By nearly every measure in the Race for Results Index, African-American, Latino, American Indian and subgroups of Asian and Pacific Islander kids face some of the biggest obstacles on the pathway to opportunity.”
Is it possible to feign surprise at that? Not, I hope, by anyone who remembers what happened after the federal government, through the No Child Left Behind law, required state school systems to disaggregate and report performance scores by race and ethnicity along with other measures. Suddenly, even top-rated districts and schools had to acknowledge yawning racial divides in achievement that had been masked conveniently by aggregated scores.
If the new index does nothing else, it would bring the nation to similar honesty in acknowledging the disparate racial impacts of laws and regulations and policies and practices that appear to be benign. And having accepted that fact, it should be possible also to avoid further weighing down children facing more than their share of challenges.
The index uses 12 indicators (including factors such as education, work experience, family and neighborhood income) to measure “opportunity for success in adulthood.” States earn a composite score on a 1,000-point scale for each group of children: African-American, American Indian, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander and white (the report can be found at www.kidscount.org).
Look at the scores for Ohio, and you get an idea just how elusive opportunities for success are for the majority of African-American and Latino children. African-American children score 274 points, the sixth lowest in the country. Latino children fare marginally better, with a score of 432. White children (674 points) and Asian and Pacific Islanders (860 points) encounter far fewer impediments to success, according to the index.
It could be pointed out — and often is — that decades of programs and policies have been rolled out to even the playing field, that the obligation of government and of society as a whole is not to guarantee anyone equal results. Only equal opportunity.
But what if access to opportunity is unequal? And what if the programs and policies themselves create conditions that make it more difficult for some children to succeed?
These are some of the issues the index strives to illuminate. It reveals that opportunities are not distributed equitably across society and, further, that policies and practices have differential effects on children, most particularly African-American children.
Sometimes when evidence of racial disparities emerge, the assumption is that advocates leap to demand more programs, more money, more everything. (Lord knows, such a response often is justified.) But that hardly is the case here. The principal reason for highlighting the racial data, it seems to me, is to identify how even the best efforts to prepare children can become impediments instead. The index promises to be clarifying in this way.
The report proposes that state and national policymakers bring similar sensitivity to activities that contribute to the success of children, such as budgets, regulations and public policies. It recommends the use of a Racial Equity Impact Assessment to examine “how a proposed action or decision will likely affect different racial and ethnic groups.” Another recommended tool is an Opportunity Impact Statement, which would evaluate spending on public projects, such as transportation, school location and job to ensure the opportunities they create are equitably distributed.
When business and industry leaders screamed loudly enough about the perceived negative impact of environmental laws and policies, for instance, lawmakers paid attention. It has become standard practice to require environmental and/or financial impact studies for major legislative proposals and development projects.
It’s an awareness thing — remembering to check who might be hurt by our best intentions.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org