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Friday, May 1st, 2015
The one-two punch of maternal poverty and prenatal exposure to air pollution can have a negative effect on a child’s IQ, researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health have found.
A new study, published in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, focused on 276 mother-child pairs living in urban areas from pregnancy to early childhood. It found kids who were born to moms who experienced both economic hardship during pregnancy and exposure to air pollution (specifically, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) had lower IQ scores at the age of 5 than children who were exposed to fewer pollutants in utero and born to more economically secure mothers.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the environment may come from such sources as cars and trucks, oil, and smoke emissions.
“The findings add to other evidence that socioeconomic disadvantage can increase the adverse effects of toxic physical “stressors” like air pollutants,” the study concluded. Furthermore, the association between the PAH exposure, which was found in cord blood, and the lowered IQ was “significant only among the group of children whose mothers reported high material hardship. These results indicate the need for a multifaceted approach to prevention.”
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
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Friday, July 25th, 2014
The annual “Kids Count” report that measures the well-being of American children based on 16 indicators of economic, educational, health, and family welfare, has found encouraging improvements in several areas nationwide, chiefly a rising number of children who are attending preschool, and a steady decline in the number of kids who lag behind in reading and math. Also, national declines in the teen pregnancy, birth, and death rates suggest a brightening future for U.S. youth.
But the news from the report, which is published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is now in its 25th year, is not all good. It also found a concerning rise in the number of children growing up in poor communities, and an increasing percentage of kids who are growing up in single-parent households.
“We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas,” said Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s president and CEO said in a news release. “But we must do much more. All of us, in every sector — business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families — need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed.”
The foundation published the list of state-by-state rankings, which listed Massachusetts as the top-ranked state in education and overall, and Mississippi as the lowest-ranking state overall as well as in the economic well-being and family and community categories. Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Minnesota rounded out the top 5 states, and New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana, and Arizona joined Mississippi in the bottom 5.
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Thursday, June 12th, 2014
A California judge has made a landmark education ruling, calling that state’s teacher tenure rules unconstitutional because they keep some teachers who don’t perform well–and dismiss some teachers who do–based on standards other than current merit. CNN has more:
Poor and minority students are especially hurt by the laws because “grossly ineffective teachers” more often work in their schools, Los Angeles County Judge Rolf M. Treu said.
The ruling was hailed by the nation’s top education chief as bringing to California — and possibly the nation — an opportunity to build “a new framework for the teaching profession.” The decision represented “a mandate” to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
The court ordered a stay of the decision, pending an appeal by the state and the teachers union, the plaintiffs said.
Reforming teacher tenure and firing laws is a hotly debated issue in American education, and the California case is being watched nationally, as evidenced by a statement from Duncan immediately after the court ruling.
Reformers say firing a bad teacher is almost impossible because of tenure laws and union protections, but teachers and their unions argue school boards and their firing criteria have unfair, overtly political standards.
Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process “that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.”
At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California “a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”
“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems,” Duncan said.
Teachers unions, however, criticized the ruling, with one leader stating the court decision was “anti-public education” and a “scapegoating” of teachers for public education’s problems. They will appeal the ruling.
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Friday, November 1st, 2013
Children who experience poverty in early childhood are more likely to have smaller brains, as well as a lessened ability to process certain types of sensory information, new research published in the journals JAMA Pediatrics and the Journal of Neuroscience has found. More from Time.com:
Previous work suggested that poverty can contribute to compromised cognitive function and low performance in schools, but using imaging, researchers have documented measurable changes in the brain tied to poverty.
In one study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, children who grew up in impoverished households showed smaller white and grey matter in their brains compared with those who had more means — these make up the density of nerve connections between different parts of the brain. The less wealthy kids also developed smaller hippocampus and amygdala regions, which are involved in regulating attention, memory and emotions.
According to the researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the smaller brain regions may be due to the increased stress and anxiety that these children experience growing up in families where finances are tight, and therefore parental support and interaction with children suffers.
In the second study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at Northwestern University, in Illinois, connected lower maternal education, a common symptom of poverty, to poor processing of sound in the brains of children raised in lower-resource environments. The researchers found that adolescents whose mothers had less education were more likely to register more varied and noisier nerve responses when hearing speech than those whose mothers had more schooling. That response, according to previous work, could translate into poor reading skills. The scientific team suspects that the lack of constant verbal interaction between mother and child could be one factor in the noisier brain responses to speech, since such back-and-forth can prime a still-developing brain to isolate and recognize speech more efficiently. Other data established that children in higher-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than those in lower-income families where parents have less education.
The good news, however, is that the effects may be reversible. Families don’t chose poverty, but changes in caregiving, especially during early childhood, could avoid some of the physical changes the scientists measured.
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Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
The economic well-being of American children has suffered in 2011 during the recession, according to the annual “Kids Count” survey released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nationwide, the number of children living in homes affected by unemployment has greatly increased, and poverty rates are increasing in middle-class, two-parent households where parents have college degrees. More from The Associated Press:
The Southwest has been hit particularly hard. New Mexico, for the first time, has slipped to worst in the nation when it comes to child well-being. More than 30 percent of children in the state were living in poverty in 2011 and nearly two-fifths had parents who lacked secure employment, according to this year’s Kids Count survey.
Nevada is ranked No. 48, followed by Arizona. Mississippi, which has traditionally held last place, made slight improvements in early childhood education while reading and math proficiency for some students increased, putting the state at No. 49.
Overall, the report shows there have been gains in education and health nationally, but since 2005, there have been serious setbacks when it comes to the economic well-being of children.
‘‘There’s little doubt that things are getting worse,’’ said Kim Posich, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. ‘‘Aside from the fact the New Mexico economy has been so slow to turn around, the systems that generally serve people who are the working poor and suddenly lose their jobs or face greater hardship, all those systems have been strained beyond the max.’’
In Arizona, charities and government programs were cut during the recession, making it more difficult for families to get by and rebuild, said Dana Wolfe Naimark of the Children’s Action Alliance in Phoenix.
‘‘So many things were slashed just when people needed it the most,’’ she said. ‘‘That is a key policy issue that we do have choices over. We can find ways to rebuild that investment. It’s not OK to just throw up our hands and say, ‘We can’t.’’’
According to the Kids Count report, a lingering concern is the effect of unemployment on children, particularly long-term unemployment. Researchers found that more than 4 million workers were unemployed for more than six months, and more than 3 million were without work for a year or more.
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