Kids' Well-Being on the Rise

Positive trends in education partially account for the recent improvements in children's overall well-being, according to a report by the Foundation for Child Development.

Unlike the Foundation's annual Child and Youth Well-Being Index, which tracks children's quality of life from birth to age 17, its latest study breaks out trends in early childhood (ages 0 to 5), middle childhood (ages 6 to 11), and adolescence (ages 12 to 17), and emphasizes the early years. The findings are based on a composite of 25 key indicators grouped into six quality-of-life domains: health, family economic well-being, educational attainment, safety/behavioral concerns, social relationships with family and peers, and community connectedness. The trends were analyzed over a 12-year period, from 1994 to 2006.

Progress in education was largely driven by enrollment growth in preschool and kindergarten: preschool enrollment increased by 14 percent and kindergarten enrollment jumped by 26 percent. Furthermore, the report notes that improvements in reading and mathematics among 9-year-olds, which began after 1999, may be related to the increase in children attending preschool and kindergarten in the 1990s.

Other positive indicators include greater participation in extracurricular lessons and declining rates of sixth-graders who fear being harmed in school or on the way to or from school. The study also found that more parents are reading to their children daily and setting rules for television watching.

Among the study's most troubling findings were a dramatic rise in obesity and a more modest, but important increase in low birth weight babies. Obesity among children ages 6 to 11 is nearly four times more common than it was in the 1960s, and for children ages 2 to 5, it's three times more common. Low birth weight babies, which increased by 12.3 percent from 1994 to 2005, appear to be rising because of an increase in mothers using fertility drugs to have children later in life. Fertility drugs make multiple births with lower birth weights per child more likely.

The Foundation for Child Development's full results are available at

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Studying the Art of American History

In his painting titled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant Wood portrays the famous scene as a child might imagine it, with a birds-eye view of a simple, toy-like village awakened by an unassuming hero riding through the night. Most children, though, have never seen Wood's painting. If they did, their interest in American history—and art—would surely grow.

Such is the premise behind Picturing America, a program created by the National Endowment for the Humanities that aims to strengthen the teaching of American history and culture by bringing classic works of art into thousands of classrooms and libraries throughout the country.

Thanks to the program, institutions that successfully apply will receive 40 large (24" x 36") laminated works of art, including Wood's painting, along with a teachers' resource book. The book, which is also available online, features relevant background information about the artists and their works, and suggests activities for elementary, middle, and high school students. While the resource book helps educators use the images to enhance lessons in a wide variety of subjects, the connections to American history and literature are particularly strong. For example:

• George Caleb Bingham's The County Election could enhance discussions of civics or the Civil War;

• N.C. Wyeth's cover illustration for a 1919 edition of The Last of the Mohicans could enable students to analyze romanticized images of Native Americans;

• Charles Sheeler's cleverly titled American Landscape could inspire debate on the costs and benefits of industrialization; and

• James Karales's Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965 could convey the determination of civil rights activists.

Applications must be submitted between August 4 and October 31, 2008. Detailed instructions for submitting an application can be found in the "Apply Now" section of Selected institutions will receive their materials in the spring of 2009.

You can view images of each of the works of art mentioned above, along with the rest of the Picturing America collection, in the "Gallery" section of

We Asked, You Answered

Click here for AFT survey results (available in PDF format only).

American Educator, Summer 2008