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Worst Place to Be a Kid

Publication Date: 2007-02-22

The story has played big in Brunei, Georgia, Thailand, & Seychelles. It is not about bashing public schools so it has not played in New York or Washington.

The story has played big in Brunei, Georgia, Thailand, & Seychelles. It has not played in New York or Washington. The Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle and virtually all other major- and mid-market papers have ignored it. Aside from San Diego, the story has been relegated to Concord, NH, Casper, WY, Wilmington, NC, York, PA, and Aberdeen, SD. Not to denigrate any of these fine places, but they are not generally viewed as media central. And even these places carried only an AP wirestory, sometimes listing David McHugh as the author, sometimes not.

The question the story asks is, "Where is the best place in the world to be a kid?" UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center ranked 21 nations on six dimensions of well being.* You're best off as a kid in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark or Finland. You're worst of in the United Kingdom (21st)and the United States (20th).

The English media have been all over this story. Not so the American media. Brittany's bald pate has gotten much more ink and airtime. The papers that rush to declare the U. S. is headed for an economic catastrophe because of our middling ranks in international comparisons of mathematics and science fall mute about this report that describes the childhood conditions that contribute to good or bad test scores. Ironically enough, America's highest rank, 12th, is on educational well-being which combines test scores, educational attainment, and the transition to employment (next highest ranking, 17th).

In this, the supposedly wealthiest nation on earth, the U.S. finishes dead last in relative poverty, 25th (on some individual components of dimensions, there are more than the 21 nations for which there data). Among those same 25 nations, the U. S. finishes 24th in infant mortality and 22nd for low birth weight rate. If being ranked 15th of 44 nations in TIMSS 2003 8th grade mathematics is a scandal, how does one begin to describe our rankings on infant mortality and low birth weights?

The U. S. has the most children living with step-parents and in single-parent families. It is 22nd in the percent of children who eat the main meal of the day with their parents "several times a week," 66% (Italy is first, 93%, Iceland, France, Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium all right at 90%).

And so it goes. But never fear. Margaret Spellings and Kati Haycocok assure us that the schools alone will wipe out the achievement gap and fashion for us a generation of healthy, happy people secure in their role as citizens in a democracy. But will the media cover that?


Innocenti Research Center Report Card 7, An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries.
*Material well being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks, and subjective well-being.

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