Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Children's Welfare: OECD Gives Us Half the Story

vonzastrowc's picture

OECD reports always leave me wanting more. The most recent report on child well being in industrialized countries is no exception. I want more information, better context, greater clarity. The report just seems to gloss over too many factors that affect children’s welfare.

One finding does seem abundantly clear: The United States fares poorly on many measures of child well-being. Our child poverty rate is over 20 percent, almost double the OECD average. We’re in the basement on children’s health and safety: twenty-fourth out of 30 OECD countries. And we do just as poorly in educational well-being. Our achievement gaps are much larger than in most other OECD countries. American students are also more likely than their OECD peers to lack important resources like textbooks, computers, or even a quiet place to study.

The report also finds that U.S. spending on children is higher than the OECD average. (Cue outrage over big spending on social programs....) But the OECD analysis leaves so much out of account that this conclusion is hard to support.

Take, for example, health care spending. The OECD admits leaving it out of the analysis: “Although the analysis does not include public spending on health, many of the indicators of child well-being are related to health.” Oh.... That's kind of a big deal.

In the U.S., poor children receive much worse health care than other children do, and their health suffers as a result.  So does their academic success. In many countries that best us in OECD rankings, all children receive health care as a matter of course.

And there's more. Mothers and even fathers in many other developed countries get months of paid leave after the birth of a child. They get much more time off to spend with families. And many receive most of their salaries for a year or more after they are laid off. That might all sound a bit like “socialism” (gasp), but could it also influence children’s well-being?

Is that level of support for families feasible in the United States? I'll stay out of that particular debate for now.

But we should never forget that poverty is expensive. In Finland, where few children are poor, poverty doesn't carry the price tag it does here. Overwhelming need quickly swallows social spending, especially when most of it goes to crisis management rather than prevention. On that point, the OECD report does offer some perspective. The U.S. falls behind most OECD countries in the share of total spending it devotes to children younger than 5. The study's authors argue that the U.S. should spend more on younger, disadvantaged children.

Overall, the OECD report would be more helpful if it examined the many complex factors that affect children's wellfare. Easier said than done, I know. We still have much work to do in better coordinating our all our services to children, both within and beyond schools. At present the OECD report offers rather limited guidance on how to do so.


Sorry but the poverty rates

Sorry but the poverty rates say it all. We have way more poverty and way more homogeneity so comparisons of public spending on children don't make sense. It's just not going to be that expensive in Finland.

Thanks, Gary. I'm never quite

Thanks, Gary.

I'm never quite sure how much higher poverty rates in the U.S. figure in to OECD's analyses. Other countries may well spend less per student, but they don't have the same needs to cover. Perhaps OECD takes this into account. Maybe someone with intimate knowledge of their report can enlighten me.

But their inability to factor health care spending into their analysis of spending per student places a huge question mark behind their findings in this most recent report. They acknowledge the shortcoming, but it would be nice to know if a more thorough analysis were possible.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options