The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics yesterday released its annual report, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. So what do the indicators indicate?
Despite the media attention such reports garner, isolated indicators give little meaningful information.
Take the finding that from 1999 to 2001, fewer families enrolled their children in formal daycare and preschool programs. From this indicator, policymakers might conclude that affordable programs are in short supply. However, another indicator shows that during the same time, more families reported reading to their youngsters, which could lead to the conclusion that declining enrollment in formal programs reflects a parental preference to spend time with their children. Without more information on the costs of programs and parent preferences, policymakers can't know for sure.
Then there are several high school indicators. From 1998 to 2000, more high school graduates reported completing advanced courses in math and English. This might lead to the conclusion that students are learning more. Yet on the Nation's Report Card, twelfth grade math and reading scores declined between 1996 and 2002.
The America's Children report provides useful data points, but without deeper analysis and context, the report can become more of a child's paint-by-number than a complete portrait.
Source: America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2005.
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates no statistically significant change.