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Improving the Odds for America’s Children

Marian Wright Edelman | 4/20/2014, 9:01 a.m.
We are now blessed with a new indispensable evidence-based book from Harvard Education Press—Improving the Odds for America’s Children: Future ...
Marian Wright Edelman

“. . . We see repeated efforts in Congress in recent years to take resources away from poor and middle-class children and families, like food stamps and tax credits and education funding and access to affordable health care, and give even more to the wealthy and powerful. Bipartisanship has taken a severe beating in recent years, as has the willingness of Congress to enact or support policies driven by evidence-based research that help children and families and our country as a whole.”

–Congressman George Miller, Foreword, Improving the Odds for America’s Children

More than 40 years ago, the earliest planning for what would become the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) took place at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. CDF began in 1973 in a Harvard University-owned clapboard house. Our beginning was bolstered by a two-volume publication of the Harvard Educational Review in 1973 and 1974 among whose top editors were CDF staff, many of them graduates of or students at Harvard’s education and law schools. Another young staff attorney, Hillary Rodham, in her first job after law school, contributed an article on the “Rights of Children.”

At the same time, CDF staff knocked on doors to look for children out of school in Massachusetts and all across America. A local group, Massachusetts Advocacy, had issued a report on Children Out of School in Boston and we wondered whether this was a statewide or national problem. After knocking on many thousands of doors in census tracts across our country, CDF documented it was a national problem with at least 2 million children out of school, including 750,000 the census said were between 7-13 years old but did not tell us who they were. We found many were children with disabilities. Other children were pushed out by discipline policies, language, and the inability to afford school fees.

Children Out of School in America became our first report in 1974. We followed it up by organizing with parents at the local level and collaborating with national organizations concerned with children with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities and many others to help push Congress to enact 94-142 – now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – which for the first time gave children with disabilities the right to a free, appropriate public education. CDF’s first report led to publication of School Suspensions: Are They Helping Children describing many of the practices we are still combating today with school discipline policies that suspend children for a wide range of nonviolent offenses include truancy and subjective offenses like disruptive behavior.

After 40 years we are now blessed with a new indispensable evidence-based book from Harvard Education Press—Improving the Odds for America’s Children: Future Directions in Policy and Practice. Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College and former Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was the driving force behind this volume that she co-edited with Hirokazu Yoshikawa and Laurie B. Forcier.

Each chapter suggests a prominent pathway for moving forward to level the playing field and improve the odds for children. The volume starts with prenatal and infant health and development, emphasizing parent and caregiver support in a child’s earliest years, moves through the school years and adolescence, and addresses the special needs of the most vulnerable youth involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.