“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
–July 25, 1963
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
–July 25, 1963
Massachusetts has distinguished itself as a leader in education, both on the national and international level. Despite this reputation, we still face challenges in expanding opportunities for all students. This can be seen as early as third grade, where the most recent MCAS scores in English Language Arts show that only 35% of high-needs students score proficient or higher.
The trend continues through high school, where only 56% of high-needs students complete the MassCore coursework that helps them to be college and career ready. It therefore comes as no surprise that 36% of students at Massachusetts public institutions of higher education place into remedial courses, thus reducing the likelihood that they will continue towards degree completion. Ultimately, only 39% of all Massachusetts adults have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Recognizing these challenges, both the public and private sectors have often asked where education investments would be most effective. Many strategies have been suggested, ranging from no excuses charter schools in urban centers, to experiential learning programs during the summer months, to improving STEM education in the high school years. Indeed, the Governor’s most recent budget proposal put forth a variety of ideas for expanding existing programs and introducing new initiatives (such as increasing funding for extended learning time and expanding access to early education, among other things). What is missing in our policy efforts and our state-level conversations is a comprehensive vision to improve outcomes for all students, from birth into adulthood. Furthermore, we need to continuously evaluate our efforts if we hope to make progress.
On the morning of Nov. 21, at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, the Rennie Center will introduce our new annual project, the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth. This project will track student progress and proficiency throughout the education pipeline with the intention of providing a more complete and nuanced look at our education system, using indicators aligned with state-level data to monitor Massachusetts’ reform agenda. This project will enable us to conduct a much needed self-assessment, twenty years after the last major reform to our education system was passed.
With this knowledge, we can then look at what the research and evidence tell us about how best to proceed, and what additional information we may need to move forward. This improvement effort must be ongoing, as we conduct additional research, gather new data, and leverage key opportunities to inform adjustments to our system to further benefit our students. We hope you can join us for what should be a frank and constructive conversation. Register here to attend: http://www.renniecenter.org/event_registration.html
Education serves many important functions, helping young people become active citizens and helping them develop skills to contribute productively in the workforce. In Massachusetts, as with most states in the nation, there is a strong connection between improving the skills of the state workforce and creating a high-wage economy (for more detail on the education/wage link, please see A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity). Massachusetts leads the country in student performance, but is there greater capacity to fund our public schools and in turn lead to even better results?
It turns out that in Massachusetts we invest a below-average share of our state’s economic resources in public education. Specifically, according to US Census Bureau education spending data for FY 2011, K-12 education spending as a percent of state personal income is 3.97 percent in Massachusetts compared to 4.12 percent nationwide. Overall, Massachusetts ranks 33rd in the share of our state’s economic resources dedicated to public education.
I recently spoke at a legislative briefing about holding kids back in their grade. It turns out that far better ways to support student success exist. As I pediatrician I am invested in finding out how make that happen. A legislative aide asked me, If you could do anything to make things better for kids, what would it be? I knew immediately: preschool for everyone.
No parent wants his or her child to fail. But succeeding in school is complicated. Kids need classes where they can focus, teachers who match their learning styles. Kids need sleep and good nutrition, safe homes and communities. They need parents with good physical and mental health. They need emotional wellbeing that is nurtured. And for those kids with learning disabilities or other developmental differences, they need specific plans like reading programs or language therapy.
Kids need this from the start, and they need each year to build on the last.
Over the past four years, thousands of children with serious psychiatric disabilities have been receiving home-based services under the state’s Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI). But far fewer youth than anticipated are receiving intensive services consistent with the wraparound principles that guided and directed the design of the new remedial system.
In addition, the Commonwealth still faces challenges ensuring that youth have reasonable access to needed services, that they are utilizing services at the requisite intensity and duration, that the services are effective, and that they meet quality standards.
The Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) is a system of care intended to ensure that medically necessary home-based services are available to both assist children with serious emotional disturbance to remain in their home, in school, and in the community, as well as to reduce the likelihood that such children will be removed from their homes because of their mental health needs. CBHI services were part of the remedy ordered as a result of the Rosie D. v. Romney lawsuit – a Federal suit in which the Court found that the Commonwealth violated the Early and Period Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment provisions of the federal Medicaid Act by failing to provide home-based services to thousands of children across the Commonwealth or inform parents that they are entitled to covered services. Continue reading
Samilla Quiroa was surprised by the unusual request.
Could her two year-old son open the door with just a verbal command? That’s what the Thrive in 5 parent screener wanted to know. No finger pointing, no gesture of any manner; could he respond to his mother’s words?
In her topsy-turvy world of stay-at-home mothering, this had never occurred to Samilla; what difference did it make if her toddler could open a door without a pointed finger from his mom?
Now, months later, a parent screener herself, it all makes perfect sense.
It was Samilla’s neighbor who had recommended a visit from the screener. She had raved about the experience. Not anyone to pass up anything that could benefit her children, Samilla agreed, and the resulting experience completely changed her perspective as a mother and caregiver.
Thrive in 5′s parent screeners are deployed to homes, delivering free screenings for children from one month to four years-old. They arrive bearing a variety of toys, props and activities, designed to screen for any potential developmental delays.
Thrive in 5 is a joint initiative between the City of Boston and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, created to ensure universal school readiness for all of Boston’s children. The parent screener program is a pilot, working out of the Allston/Brighton and Dorchester neighborhoods. Ten parent screeners have screened 191 children to date.
“Screening helps parents understand what development looks like,” said Katie Britton, Director of Resource Development and Communications for Thrive in 5. “It shows them how their kids are doing and what they can do in their home and in their communities to support their children’s development.”
That’s the impact on a micro level; on a macro scale, the screeners are able to generate usable data that gives a broader picture of how young children are faring in Boston. The ultimate goal is to have a system for all young children to be screened in the city.
“We want to get a neighborhood-by-neighborhood view at what early childhood development looks like,” says Britton.
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which details policy recommendations to better support children’s early development, has recognized Massachusetts for its high rate of developmental screening. Developmental screening provides an opportunity to identify and intervene early with developmental delays, when services and interventions are more effective.
The centerpiece mechanism for Thrive in 5′s screening is the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), which parent screeners bring to each visit. It is a comprehensive tool, detailing all areas of development: communication, problem-solving, personal-social, and gross and fine motor. The survey adapts as well, with different questions and activities to be used for different ages and developmental stages.
“Parents may not be aware of their child’s development because they don’t have time or are just too busy,” said Samilla. “But these tools really do show you where your kids are doing well and where they need help. If your child is falling behind in any area, the screening will let you know and you can get referred to specialists in early intervention.”
From her position as a mom and a neighbor, Samilla understands that this lack of awareness – which she herself experienced – is common in the community. Some families simply don’t know the ins and outs of development milestones. This is what compelled her to become a parent screener herself.
“Parents feel more comfortable having other parents come in their home,” she says. “I’ve found that parents will feel more open and empowered by those who have shared their own experience.”
As someone fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish, she fills a critical role in connecting with non-English speaking families and is of immense value to the Allston/Brighton Children Thrive parent network. Samilla is already seeing results.
“This is causing a big impact in our community,” she says. “It’s a great tool and we are lucky to have access. It’s been done with my own children. It works.”
That first visit, when her son was asked to open the door on words alone, reinforced Samilla’s concerns about her son’s verbal communication. Since then, thanks to the early supports she was able to access, he’s making progress and, as she says, “catching up.” Now it is Samilla who is bringing a bold new approach to child development to her neighbors.
Now it is Samilla who is opening doors.
As mothers know, giving birth transforms the life of a woman. In addition to the joy and happiness that accompany biological motherhood, though, there are also significant health risks. Postpartum depression (PPD), a clinical condition that affects 10-20% of all new mothers, is a major mental health concern for thousands of women across Massachusetts.
As co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, I’m familiar with the challenges of PPD that confront new mothers. Addressing maternal mental health is a priority here in Massachusetts, and we need to take every effort to ensure that those giving birth are fully aware of the risks and treatment options for PPD.
The Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP) is pleased to be able to use funding provided by the state legislature in this year’s budget to develop support for postpartum depression (PPD) screening. Following the guidance provided by the Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on Postpartum Depression, MCPAP will fund several initiatives over the next eight months, including the following:
Miriam Carey’s death is evidence of a crisis in this country. This is yet another heartbreaking example of the desperate need for a significant change in our mental health system. We must create comprehensive safety nets that help ALL mothers when they are facing perinatal emotional complications. There are so many mothers out there who are in desperate need and who remain at risk for falling through the cracks without a system in place that is able to catch them.
Perinatal emotional complications can be devastating to a mother who may be unable to fully function and bond with her newborn. There are a number of serious implications for children who are born to mothers with untreated depression or anxiety such as being more likely to experience social, emotional, and cognitive delays, have the potential of facing unintended neglect and can have lifelong increases in medical care utilization and expenses due to these developmental and emotional challenges. Additionally, the 1 in 1000 mothers who experience postpartum psychosis are in crisis and need to be identified and cared for immediately.