Youth at the Center
It’s impossible to know how society will change in the next few generations, and our goal was not to plan for specific contingencies. Rather, our hope was to learn from our history and our current state, to examine our current structures and systems to see which hold children back and which build them up, and to recommend new policies, structures and systems that do less holding back and more building up.
In evaluating our efforts, one of the core questions that the Ferguson Commission working groups emphasized was how our recommendations impact generational change—that is, how they impact not only the current generation, but generations to come.
“I strongly believe that our current education system has become a ladder to systematic poverty. I believe schools should emphasize on the individual rather than standardized testing. Innovative education reform is the number one issue I’m out there protesting for.”
In thinking about what is best for children and youth, we are, of course, thinking about what is best for the region in the long term, and so the themes that apply throughout this report apply here.
We must think strategically at the systems level when considering changes, making sure to consider side effects, and weighing the potential impact. We must think at the community level, understanding the many stakeholders who will be affected and can be valuable allies in supporting decisions. We must think about ways to collaborate and cooperate, and to avoid the fragmentation that too often keeps our region from working together. We must measure our success and hold ourselves accountable through data, and be transparent about the results of that data. And because change of the type we seek requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources, we must concentrate and align our efforts where they will make the most impact.
Within this Priority
Supporting the Whole Child
As adults, we instinctively understand that we are complex, intricate, interconnected beings.
When things aren’t going well at home, we struggle to focus at work. When things aren’t going well at work, we don’t sleep well at night. When we don’t sleep well at night, our health suffers, our energy drops, and our work and relationships suffer. When we are hungry, we lose patience, and we are quick to anger. When we are angry and impatient, we more easily damage our relationships. When we damage our relationships with others, we get down on ourselves. When we get down on ourselves, we don’t make healthy choices about eating, sleeping, and exercise. When we don’t make healthy choices, we are not at our best, and our work and our relationships and our state of mind suffer.
In other words, it’s complicated. It’s always complicated.
Day after day, week after week, we struggle with this push and pull, challenged to balance the ever-shifting demands of adult life.
Knowing the depth and complexity of these internal connections—not to mention how that complexity multiplies when family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are added to the equation, or how we are affected by our immediate surroundings—we understand that our struggles belong in a larger context. We hope and expect others to consider our struggles in that larger context as well. We no more want to be judged for our failings in a single facet of our lives than we want others to assume that a single facet of our lives represents the entirety of who we are.
Yet when we talk about the struggles that children face, we too often compartmentalize them, as though they can be easily separated from each other.
To support the whole child is to appreciate how hunger not only affects health, but also how it affects a child’s behavior in school, and how a child’s behavior in school— and the kind and severity of discipline that school leaders use to address that behavior—affects that child’s education. To support the whole child is to appreciate how that child’s education affects not only his or her own future well-being—career prospects, access to health care, ability to build wealth, etc.—but also, by definition, the well-being of the next generation, to which that child will be a parent.
Considering the whole child—thinking about every child as a developing human being with unknowable, infinite potential—impels us to think holistically about how we as a society, as a community, as a region, can support that child.
That’s why the calls to action recommended in this section aim to address specific issues that are essential to child well-being, but more importantly, aim to consider these in the context of the whole child.
In Missouri, more than one of every five children lives in a home where food security is a concern (Feeding America, 2013). This means that, at some point during the year, those children suffer from a lack of sufficient food or the limited availability of nutritionally-adequate foods (USDA, 2015).
The effects of hunger can be severe and far-reaching. Insufficient nutritional intake in a child’s first two years of life can lead to increased susceptibility to short-term and long-term illness, as well as slowed mental development and physical growth (Hoddinott et al, 2008).
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are two federal programs that address hunger and are available to households with income below a designated threshold.
In Missouri, approximately 1.04 million people were eligible for SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps) in 2012, with approximately 89 percent of those participating in the program (Cunnyngham, 2015). More than 255,000 Missourians were eligible for WIC benefits in 2011, but only approximately 57 percent of those participated (USDA, 2014).
While many economic factors lead to hunger and food insecurity, and this report aims to address them as well, there are administrative and logistical hurdles that keep Missourians from making the most of the federal food programs that already exist.
One simple example, described by the organization Empower Missouri, is that when people try to enroll at the Department of Social Services office, they submit written paperwork and then must wait for a phone call to complete their application and activate the service (Weilundemo, 2015).
However, many applicants to these programs work shift jobs and cannot easily answer phone calls while at work. Missing a call sends the applicant to the back of the line, delaying the process—and in doing so, potentially keeps a child hungry. An administrative approach that places the client first will more effectively meet the needs of hungry people in Missouri.
The Ferguson Commission calls on the accountable bodies to work together to remove these hurdles, raise awareness of these and other programs, and maximize the impact that existing resources can have in feeding hungry Missourians, especially children.
Schools as Centers of Health
One of the primary ways to address childhood hunger
is through public school breakfast and lunch programs. During the school year, students enrolled in programs like the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program get at least one nutritious meal a day (Benefits.gov, 2015).
However, schools can have an impact on childhood health beyond breakfast and lunch.
Given the role that schools play in most children’s lives, they are natural partners in the mission to support overall student health and well-being. School-based health centers can provide access to the services— medical, nursing, behavioral counseling, oral health care, reproductive health counseling, nutrition education, and general health promotion—that enable children and adolescents to thrive. By preventing illness and addressing behavioral health issues that lead to suspension and expulsion, these services can keep kids in school, sports, and activities, and help ensure that their physical, mental, social, and emotional needs are met.
School-based health centers can also serve as entry points to other federal programs that promote health, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, by identifying students who receive free or reduced school lunches—and are thus likely to qualify for other federal programs—and working with parents to enroll them in these programs.
Reforming School Discipline
For a child to receive all the health and well-being benefits that can come from school, the child has to be in school.
However, current school discipline policies keep many children out of school—away from those benefits and away from the classroom learning they need to succeed academically.
This discipline begins at a young age. Some schools in the St. Louis region discipline students as young as pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade with out-of-school suspensions and expulsions (Losen et. al.,2015). And out-of-school suspension for such young students sets off a cascade of aftershocks.
A 2014 study found that fourth graders who missed three days of school in the month before taking a national academic performance exam scored a full grade lower in reading (Ginsberg, et al., 2014). Higher suspension rates are also closely tied to higher dropout and delinquency rates—which ultimately have tremendous economic costs for not only the suspended students, but also society as a whole (Marchbanks et al., 2015; Losen, 2015).
“Jarod was upstairs in the County courtroom for a gun charge, what he didn’t know was that downstairs there was a school meeting and when he got out of County court he was going to be expelled out of school, not for a conviction but for charges, and so what we have to do is reform Safe Schools Act so that children are not expelled from school when they haven’t even been convicted yet.”
– Reverend Dr. Dietra Wise Baker
How Unconscious Bias Creates a Discipline Gap
Data shows that school discipline is not distributed equally. In the 2011-2012 school year, 14.3 percent of Black elementary school students in Missouri were suspended, compared to 1.8 percent of White students. Missouri’s discipline gap between Black students and White students was the largest among the 48 states studied (Losen et al., 2015).
In addition to hurting academic performance, this disproportionate discipline of Black students lowers teacher expectations and has been shown to increase
the likelihood of future incarceration (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). Some experts say that out-of-school suspensions, especially in early grades, direct children toward the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” The stigma of having been suspended and the academic disadvantage caused by missing class time follows students. As they move up, new teachers expect bad behavior. And if academic performance continues to suffer, this lowers the teacher’s expectations for academic success, as well as the student’s.
Research suggests that some of the discipline gap can be attributed to teacher bias, which predisposes them to expect less of minority students and to discipline them more frequently and more harshly. In an experiment where teachers compared school records and were asked whether the student was a troublemaker, the researchers found that student names, which could have signified their race, (e.g., LaShawn vs. Jake), could not only influence “how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time.” In most cases, teachers—including Black ones—were more likely to label students they believed were Black as troublemakers (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015).
The calls to action in this signature priority focus on raising awareness of these unconscious biases (as well as any conscious biases) and providing cultural responsiveness and anti-bias training for teachers and school staff, reforming the policies and practices that disproportionately impact Black students, tracking and monitoring school discipline data to identify disparities in school discipline, and working to align school discipline policies with positive youth development and restorative justice frameworks.
- Benefits.gov. (2015). Missouri school breakfast and lunch program. Retrieved from:https://www.benefits.gov/benefits/ benefit-details/2000
- Cunnyngham, K. (2015). Reaching those in need:Estimates of state supplemental nutrition assistance program participation rates in 2012. USDA and Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from:https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/ default/files/ops/Reaching2012.pdf
- Ginsburg, A., Jordan, P., & Chang, H. (2014). Absences add up:How school attendance influences student success. Attendance Works. Retrieved from:https:// www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/ uploads/2014/09/Absenses-Add-Up_September-3rd-2014. pdf.
- Hoddinott, J., Maluccio, J. A., Behrman, J. R., Flores, R., & Martorell, R. (2008). Effect of a nutrition intervention during early childhood on economic productivity in Guatemalan adults. The Lancet, 371(9610), 411-416.
- Johnson, P., Giannarelli, L., Huber, E., & Betson, D. (2014). National and state-level estimates of special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC) eligibles and program reach, 2011. USDA Food & Nutrition Service. Retrieved from:https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/ default/files/WICEligibles2011Volume1.pdf
- Losen, Daniel, et al. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap?. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies,
at the Civil Rights Project. Retrieved from:https://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/are-we-closing-the-school-discipline-gap/AreWeClosingTheSchoolDisciplineGap_FINAL221.pdf
- Losen, D.J. (2015). Closing the school discipline gap:Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion. New York:Teachers College Press.
- Map the Meal Gap. (2013). Feeding America. Retrieved from:https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2013/child/missouri
- Marchbanks III, M.P., Blake, J.J., Booth, E.A., Carmichael, D., Seibert, A.L. & Fabelo, T. (2015). The economic effects of exclusionary discipline on grade retention and high school dropout. In Losen, D.J., (Ed). Closing the School Discipline Gap:Equitable Remedies for Excessive Exclusion. New York:Teachers College Press.
- Okonofua, J. & Eberhardt J. (2015). Two strikes:Race and the disciplining of young students. Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from:https://pss.sagepub. com/content/early/2015/04/08/0956797615570365.full. pdf+html
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2015). Food insecurity in the U.S. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Retrieved from:https://ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food- security-in-the-us.aspx
- Weilundemo, T. (2015). Food stamps first time below 900,000 Since February 2010. Empower Missouri. Retrieved from:https://empowermissouri.org/food-stamps-first-time-900000-since-february-2010/
Education Infrastructure Reform
Any efforts to address child well-being must pay significant attention to education. The Ferguson Commission examined the state of education in the region extensively and developed a number of recommendations that it believes can make significant improvement in the region’s education infrastructure.
Investing in Early Childhood Education
Research supports the long-term benefits of investing in early childhood education. During the first few years of life the human brain develops rapidly, and the foundation is laid for future cognitive skills in reading, math, science, and learning in general. During these critical years, children form budding character, social, emotional, gross- motor, and executive-function skills (Phillips & Shonkoff, 2000).
Children who participate in early-learning programs perform better academically and socially than those who receive no formal early education (Karoly et al., 1998; Barnett, 1995). They are less likely to have to repeat a grade, less likely to be placed in special education classes, and more likely to graduate from high school (Karoly et al., 1998; Barnett, 1995; Barnett, 2008).
And these benefits extend beyond school:children who participate in early childhood education are less likely to engage in criminal activity, be unemployed, visit the emergency room, or become pregnant as teens (Karoly et al., 1998; Zigler et al., 1992). Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis estimate that for every dollar invested in high-quality pre-K programs, the community sees a rate of return between 7 and 20 percent (Grunewald & Rolnick, 2010).
Despite the abundance of evidence pointing to benefits that far outweigh the costs, from 2011 to 2013, 64 percent of Missouri children below 200 percent of the federal poverty level were not enrolled in preschool, compared
to 48 percent of children at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (Kids Count Data Center, 2013).
The calls to action here emphasize supporting evidence- based early childhood education for all children in Missouri, starting with assisting parents and caregivers with educational resources beginning at birth. This support includes funding expanded training for new and established early childcare workers, as well as developing creative ways, such as combined education and job training initiatives, to make it easier for parents to put their children into early childcare programs.
Supporting Education Innovation
In addition to investing in early childhood education, the St. Louis region should also look for ways to support innovation in education, giving special consideration to innovations that address systemic challenges and racial inequity. The Commission recommends pursuing these objectives through an Education Design and Financing Task Force, and the development of an Innovative Education Hub.
The role of the Task Force would be to study the current education landscape in the St. Louis region as it relates to structure, systems, and financing, and propose changes to the education infrastructure that give all children, regardless of where they live, equal opportunity to succeed. These proposed changes should include a school financing model that supports equity and innovation.
The Innovative Education Hub would serve as a developmental laboratory where teachers, education leaders, parents, community leaders, youth, colleges and universities, non-profits, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and philanthropists could experiment, collaborate, and innovate. Having a shared space to explore new ideas and incubate developing educational concepts can accelerate the implementation of effective strategies and best practices across the region.
The Hub would tackle critical education issues such as designing effective classroom strategies, creating engaging and safe school cultures, integrating new learning technologies, strengthening teacher workforce, and developing new school board models. It would also present an opportunity to tap into the full capacity of the region’s talent base, including those who historically have not been engaged in education reform, and for the region as a whole to come together to solve the complex, structural problems facing education today.
Fixing School Accreditation
One of the key structural issues impacting the education system in Missouri is the current accreditation system.
A 1993 Missouri law decreed that students in an unaccredited district could transfer to an accredited district in the same or adjoining county without expense to their family. Tuition and transportation costs (to at least one “receiving school”) for students who wished to transfer were the responsibility of the unaccredited school district (Missouri Revised Statutes, 1993).
In recent years, St. Louis has seen the impact of this law first-hand. In 2006, the Riverview Gardens School District lost its accreditation. In January 2013, the Normandy School District followed. As of early 2014, the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts were paying up to $20,000 in tuition per year per child—meaning those districts were paying more than $9 million total
to educate students attending schools in other districts (Crouch & Bock, 2014).
While students who transfer to new schools often find themselves in a better educational environment, many also find themselves taking long, early-morning bus rides to get there. Those students who stay in unaccredited schools find themselves in a school where budgets are tighter, and where some of the most motivated students— including students who have served as leaders, tutors, and behavior models for success—have left the district.
And while these accreditation and transfer laws add considerable strain to both the districts that lose accreditation and the districts who receive transferring students, they fail to fix the schools that have lost accreditation or to address the core issues that led to losing accreditation. They simply send motivated students, and money, away.
The schools that have fared the worst in this process are unlikely to make a sustainable turnaround without significant, thoughtful intervention. The signature calls to action that address this issue call for a revision of the Missouri accreditation system and call on the accountable bodies to include all key stakeholders in the process. The new system should be simple to understand, driven by content mastery and life-long success, and provide clear and transparent information about its progress. The system should also consider the whole child and be equitable—that is, it should address the racial, health, and income equity issues that currently create unequal educational opportunities across the St. Louis region.
- Crouch, E. and Bock, J. (2014). Money being paid by Normandy, Riverview Gardens to other districts not being spent. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved from:https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/money-being-paid- by-normandy-riverview-gardens-to-other-districts/article_ f2ae8233-bf03-57b3-9270-dcc5366de090.html
- Phillips, D. A., & Shonkoff, J. P. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods:The science of early childhood development. National Academies Press.
- Karoly, L.A., Greenwood, P.W., Everingham, S.S., Houbé, J., Kilburn, M.R., Rydell, C.P., Sanders, M., & Chiesa, J. (1998). Investing in our children:What we know and don’t know about the costs and benefits of early childhood interventions. Santa Monica, Calif:The RAND Corp. Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/ pubs/monograph_reports/1998/MR898.pdf
- Kids Count Data Center. (2013). Children ages 3 and 4 not attending preschool, by poverty status. Retrieved from: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7876- children-ages-3-and-4-not-attending-preschool-by- poverty-status?loc=1&loct=2#detailed/2/2-52/fal se/1218,1049,995,116/4172,4173/15190,15189
- Missouri Revised Statutes. (1993). Chapter 167:Pupils and special services, Section 167.131.1:District not accredited shall pay tuition and transportation, when–amount charged. Missouri General Assembly. Retrieved from: https://www.moga.mo.gov/mostatutes/stathtml/16700001311.html
- Barnett, W.S. (1995). Long-term effects of early childhood programs on cognitive and school outcomes. Future Child 5:25-50. Retrieved from:https://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/05_03_01.pdf
- Barnett, W. S. (2008). Preschool education and its lasting effects:Research and policy implications. Boulder and Tempe:Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved from: https:// nieer.org/resources/research/PreschoolLastingEffects.pdf
- Grunewald, R., & Rolnick, A.J. (2010). An early childhood investment with a high public return. The Regional Economist. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Retrieved from:https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional- economist/july-2010/an-early-childhood-investment-with-a- high-public-return
- Zigler, E., Taussig, C., & Black, K. (1992). Early childhood intervention:a promising preventative for juvenile delinquency. Am Psychol.;47:997-1006
Racial Equity Lens Assessment
As the overarching theme in the report, racial equity is at the heart of many of our calls to action. The calls in this section address intentional investments and practices aimed to build infrastructure and connective tissue for racial equity for work in the St. Louis region.
Signature Calls to Action
Support Early Childhood Education
In the US in 2013, 38 percent of 3 to 5 year olds were enrolled in preschool programs, 37 percent of Black students 3-5 were enrolled compared to 41 percent of White students (NCES, 2015).
In the US in 2013, 27 percent of 3 to 5 year olds were enrolled in kindergarten programs, 33 percent of Black students 3-5 were enrolled compared to 25 percent of White students (NCES, 2015).
In the US in 2010, average Approaches to Learning ratings (teacher’s reports on kindergarten readiness) were lower for Black children at 2.8 and Hispanic children at 2.9 compared to White children at 3.0 on a 4 point scale (NCES, 2015).
Increasing Access to Care for Children
In MO in 2013, 14 percent of live births to Black mothers were low birth weight, compared to 7 percent of births to White mothers that were low birth weight (Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 2013).
Reform School Discipline Policies
End Hunger for Children and Families
Revise School Accreditation System
Create an Innovative Education Hub
- Economic Research Service. (2015). Food insecurity. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from:https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx
- Losen, Daniel, et al. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap?” K-12 racial disparities in school discipline.
- Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. MAP scores 2010
- Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. (2013). Annual Report 2013. Retrieved https://health.mo.gov/data/vitalstatistics/data.php
- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2015). The condition of education 2015. US Department of Education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015144.pdf
- U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Civil rights data collection data snapshot:School Discipline (Issue brief no. 1). Retrieved from https://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline- Snapshot.pdf