The Crisis Facing US Children

While pediatric medicine continues to evolve by embracing innovation and technology, education is stuck in the Stone Age, says one expert.

Over the past few decades, significant advances have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of several medical conditions. But while clinical research has progressed, another key area impacting the health of children and adolescents has regressed, and the future implications could be considerable.

“The public education system is failing our kids on a deep level,” said Joel I. Klein, JD, during the Karl Menninger, MD, Plenary Address at the AACAP 57th Annual Meeting in New York, NY. Klein, who serves as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was the 2010 recipient of the Catchers in the Rye Humanitarian.

During his address, he spoke about the need for educational reform, and the importance of addressing the social and emotional issues faced by children who attend schools in urban areas. “Education in the United States is the greatest domestic challenge we face. We need to become warriors in the fight for public education, and we’re losing ground daily.”

Klein called on health care professionals to work with public schools to create a culture that sustains children who come from challenging environments and keeps them engaged. He cited the work done by TurnAround, Inc., a community-based organization that worked with schools to establish a public mandate for managing children who have dealt with trauma.

Klein also cited some sobering statistics, underscoring the racial and ethnic gaps in academic achievement that continue to plague US schools. By eighth grade, the average Hispanic and African American students are more than three years behind the average Caucasian student in terms of academic performance.

Since 1983—when a report entitled, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform” was released identifying key issues in educational underachievement—the US has doubled the money spent on education, but has not seen a return on the investment. National test results show that less than a third of eighth graders are proficient at math, and nearly one-third of high school graduates aren’t prepared for college. “There is an overall sense that we face a rising tide of mediocrity,” he said.

The picture is undoubtedly grim; however, there are steps that can be taken to slowly improve the education system, said Klein, who speaks from experience, as he has helped replace poorly performing schools with new facilities.

The core principles that must be applied in transforming the education system are as follows, according to Klein:

  1. Unless some level of accountability is build into the public education system, we will never get it right. Student outcomes need to be the focus, and teaching needs to be transformed into the most desired profession in the job market.
  2. Every child should have a choice for what school he or she wished to attend; systems built on excellence that compete for students will succeed. Children in poor neighborhoods are being “systematically short-changed,” he said.
  3. Technology and innovation need to be incorporated into the public education system; different models of teaching and learning need to be explored and embraced.

The bottom line, he said, is that change needs to happen, and fast. The future health of children across the US may depend on it.