Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ramblings about Teen Pregnancy, STEM and Poverty

In a recent conversation with a few friends (both male and female) we noticed that some people don’t completely understand the fact that daughters of teenage mothers have an increased risk of having children as teens themselves. Nor do those people grasp the potential effect of perpetual teenage motherhood on the teen mother’s community or on the United States as a whole. I guess the opportunity to witness perpetuating inter-generational cycles of poverty and poor education up close doesn’t present itself to everyone. But, for those who have seen this cycle in action - and understand it’s ramifications - it’s hurtful to observe.

The fact that daughters of teenage mothers have an increased risk of having children as teens themselves hinders the United States’ ability to contribute additional productive and successful professionals to the global community. This is especially true in a time when the president is calling for more women to enter STEM education/professions in the United States yet; the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world.

If only 38% of mothers who have a child before the age of 18 obtain a high school diploma, and only 2% complete college by the age of 30[1], one could argue that there are way too many potential STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals, business leaders, and innovators being left behind because they are too busy struggling to put food on the table to complete their own education and reach their professional potential.

More specifically, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teenage mothers typically receive less than $800 a year from absent teen fathers. Teen mothers are also less likely to finish school, more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to earn minimum wage. Which means the majority of teenage mothers are not founding lucrative startups, or becoming CEO’s of STEM-related Fortune 500 companies. They are instead often taking menial jobs and following some of the same behaviors their parent/parents did.

President Obama’s Friday Facts: Women and Girls in Stem fact sheet[2] states “increasing the number of smart, talented women who pursue STEM-related careers is key to creating jobs and keeping America on the edge of innovation.”

But, how do we get the three-quarters of a million teens between 15 and 19 that become pregnant each year to reach the status of “smart and talented”?

How many teenage mothers are there?

According to the Center for Disease control, one-third of girls get pregnant before the age of 20. As stated on a site managed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,, there are "750,000 teen pregnancies annually. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 81 percent are to unmarried teens."[3]

Are there any successful Children of Teenaged Mothers[4]?

Not all children of teen mothers are doomed to live out their life in lower socio-economic status. Child entertainers like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez are two examples of successful offspring of teen mothers.

Unfortunately, however, statistics show us that Bieber and Gomez are exceptions. The average income of a U.S. teenage mom is $23,000 and short of having their children discovered on You Tube or receiving a larger salary for being cast in MTV’s Teen Mom, $23,000 is pretty accurate and up to date. According to the National Women’s Law Center[5] recent poverty statistics yield sobering poverty rates and extreme poverty rates amongst women in 2010.

More specifically female poverty in the U.S. is the highest it has been in 17 years at 14.5 percent last year, up from 13.9 percent in 2009. While the “extreme poverty rate” climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009 among women (which was the highest ever recorded).

What do folks on twitter think about pregnancy and poverty?

At 9:06 am on October 28, 2011 @TheMamaFesto (aka Avital Nathman) tweeted More from @MotherWoman centerpieces "Becoming a mother is the single leading indicator of poverty for women in the US. WHY?" #MWBrkfst”.

Now after you cut through all the twitter-ese and the hashtags you find a very interesting question, if you believe becoming a mother is the single leading indicator of poverty for women in the US, why is that true?





Friday, October 28, 2011

Abstinence-only Sex Education

To all those card-carrying abstinence-only sex education supporters out there, hopefully you're doing some major damage control at the dinner table. (That is, if you’re even having dinner as a family these days[1].)

Abstinence-only sex education in schools is an interesting idea. But…how realistic is it in today’s society where there is literally access to information and influence everywhere? For example, assume the main character in any teen’s favorite prime time television series is probably not abstinent. Add a few hundred online/tv interviews with sexy celebrities (or their pregnant siblings) and the lyrics of most any song on the radio/top 100 list and you have a pre-existing after school sex education program that you (the parents) probably pay for (meaning the cable, ipod, movie tickets, laptop and that HD flatscreen television you bought).

Yep, abstinence-only sex education or not, your kid is exposed to sexuality and the choices other people their age make about sex every minute of every day. Advocating abstinence-only sex education - when documentaries, online quizzes, made for tv movies, Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks are covering everything from vibrators and viruses to whether or not oral sex is in fact sex - is probably not the best choice.

But, not having the uncomfortable conversations with your own children on top of your kids not learning about sex at school is really nuts. Some parents are afraid to ask or just naïve about what their teenagers knowledge of sexual health and healthy sexual activity but, waiting until your teen comes home pregnant or infected seems a little hands-off.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Does the public school nearest to you have a library??

Unfortunately, there are quite a few public schools in America that have underwhelming or non-existent libraries. A recent conversation lead to this post including various programs, organizations, resources and outlets related to literacy and it's correlation to access to libraries.
Please feel free to add comments including other resources that may not be listed.

Projects and Organizations Dedicated to building/re-opening libraries:

West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC)

WePAC's mission is to promote childhood literacy by engaging volunteers in Philadelphia public schools through re-opening and staffing libraries, academic mentoring, and after-school enrichment. In our vision, every Philadelphia student will be empowered with the literacy skills vital to the success of the child and the prosperity of our community.

Room to Read

Room to Read works in collaboration with governments, organizations and communities to develop literacy skills in developing countries.

Library Build

Founded in December 2009 by Callie Hammond,
Library Build
is a new nonprofit organization dedicated to ending educational inequities in Philadelphia, PA and in other American cities.

Excerpt from an article written about Library Build in the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal:

The glaring lack of library resources, and the resulting potential effects on children’s academic achievement, resonated with Hammond. The idea for Library Build was conceived in November 2009. Since then, Hammond, Library Build’s founder and CEO, along with her husband, Jeff, who has signed on as co-founder and COO, have worked quickly and tirelessly to bring her idea to fruition.

Library Build’s mission is to bring books, computers, and librarians into Philadelphia’s public schools. According to Hammond, the inclusion of librarians is critical, as they play a pivotal role in acclimating students to computers and other media, teaching the basics of research, and engendering a holistic approach to reading and learning. She says, “Students need librarians to teach them not only how to use the library, but also how to enjoy it.” Hammond says that the organization will use the Teach for America model, recruiting college graduates with master’s degrees in Library Science to commit to two years of service as full-time librarians in city schools.

Library Build defines a library as providing 12-15 books per student. In addition, Hammond makes the point that it’s important to provide the kinds of books that students are interested in.

Library Build’s model incorporates space renovation and relies on input from students and teachers about the books, computers, and other resources they need. Hammond hopes Library Build will become a national model. The goal in Philadelphia is to start at the elementary school level, targeting those schools that have no library at all.

Complete PSIJ Article

Related Blogs/Publications:

A Librarian’s Guide to Etiquette

Academic Librarian

American Libraries Magazine

Awful Library Books

Bright Ideas

Disruptive Library Technology Jester

Everybody's Libraries

Handheld Librarian

Library Garden

Library Grants

Never Ending Search

Social Networking in Libraries

The Association for Library Service to Children Blog

The Best Of PubLib

The Daring Librarian

The Library History Buff

The 'M' Word - Marketing Libraries

The Merry Librarian

Walt at Random

What I Learned Today


American Library Association/Association for Library Service to Children

Public Library Association

Urban Libraries Council

American Association of School Librarians

Librarians for Fairness

International Association of School Librarianship

Government Data:

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Academic library data

Thursday, July 7, 2011

HEEDPoll: Lowest Common Denominator

HEED recently received an email from a concerned reader. After tutoring a few college-bound high school grads in his area, our reader started to wonder about the k-12 education system in the U.S.

Yes, many people are already worried about k-12 education in the U.S. However, moving from a suburb with a successful school district to a less academically effective urban area proved to be an eye-opener to our reader.

Anyway, in his email our reader stated that he wondered what the standards were for graduation. He also asked, if the high school graduates he was tutoring didn't know their multiplication tables or how to find a lowest common denominator (for example), why had they graduated?

...which led HEED to the following poll: (feel free to leave your answers as comments)

How many high school graduates have you met that could not add fractions?

What are the expectations for the students that graduate from your high school?

What other questions/comments does this post lead you to ask?

Feel free to email your observations, questions or comments to

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is a 360 degree education a realistic goal for inner city and rural youth?

At in an article written about a year ago, Arne Duncan said "I reject the notion that the arts, history, foreign languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings that can or should be cut from schools during a fiscal crunch," he also said "The truth is that, in the information age, a well-rounded curriculum is not a luxury but a necessity"

Now, if shared with middle/upper-middle class parents with children learning via a suburban public school system, this statement would probably be supported as a "no-brainer". Beside the fact that some parents may suggest an offering (or two) they felt should have been added to this list, there would most likely be a general consensus.

But, what about rural or urban parents with children attending schools that are struggling to effectively educate and graduate their students. What would they say about Arne Duncan's statement?

Would they agree?

Would the reaction from urban and rural parents be divided?

If they didn't agree, what reasons would they have not to?

Some administrators of traditional public school districts seem to hold "the notion that the arts, history, foreign languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings" as true. There are multiple examples of these same "offerings" being categorized as "enrichment" by (public school district) administrators across the U.S.

What does enrichment really mean and does the definition depend on who's defining enrichment? For instance, would administrators and parents define enrichment in the same way?

Here are a few recent examples of plans to both fight for and cut-back on arts, "gifted and talented programs", kindergarten and at-risk programs in school districts in the U.S. by state:

New Jersey

Although these examples vary in location - some being urban examples and some not - they all depict a need to decrease local education spending as an issue and cutting teachers and/or programs as a controversial solution. You may have noticed these examples are similar to those you've read about (or experienced) in years past.

So...if the same issue (a need to decrease local education spending) is a focus every year and the same solution is proposed every year; is it working?

How are American youth (no matter where they live) supposed to close the apparent achievement gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world -and (domestically) between socio-economic classes - by employing the same tactics? Cutting spending (via terminating teachers and programs), fighting about education reform and watching more children fail doesn't seem to be working.

If Arne Duncan's statement that "a well-rounded curriculum is not a luxury but a necessity" is true, how does the current cut-fight-fail cycle help American children attain this necessary 360 degree education?

Last question, what are the literacy, high school graduation, college graduation and salary rates of those students who do receive an enriched education?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How many millionaires are illiterate?

After watching a 5-minute film on 21st Century Literacy one education enthusiast emailed HEEDblog asking a few questions relating literacy to healthcare, wealth and incarceration/recidivism.

What’s interesting is the verbiage from starts to address a lot of the following questions (received from the before mentioned enthusiast):

• Does illiteracy have an impact on healthcare and/or the general health of the lower socio-economic class in the US?
• How does illiteracy affect the economy?
• How many millionaires are illiterate?

• Should accomplished members of society be more concerned / engaged with literacy efforts in their areas?
• How are there so many illiterate people in the US? (What does that say about our school system?)

Below is the verbiage from the :

"Literacy in America and Economic Impact

Many people consider literacy issues as personal concerns that
affect the illiterate individual and not society as a whole. In reality,
literacy issues are a collective concern that affects the quality and prosperity
of our entire nation. The struggle to win the battle of literacy in America is
one which should be fought by everyone.
The wealth creation opportunities
for those who lack reading skills are severely limited. The Washington Literacy
Council conducted a study which found that more than three out of four of those
who are on welfare are illiterate. This has a disastrous effect on our economy.
Without the ability to read classified ads, fill out an application, or gather
the skills necessary to acquire employment that pays well enough to be
self-sufficient, there almost seems no choice but to turn to welfare. This
limitation affects their ability to spend which hurts the economy by limiting
demand for products and stunting job creation.

The prison population
represents another pool of lost opportunity in the fight for economic stability
in America. The Washington Literacy Council found that 68% of those arrested are
illiterate. While valuable tax dollars are spent housing and caring for inmates,
taxpayers are forced to look for additional sources of income to try to live the
American dream. Inmates, limited to non-existent reading skills and lost in a
cycle of violence and non-productivity, will rarely be able to escape a life
devoid of opportunity to make a legitimate living and contribute to the success
of our economy.

Improving the reading skills of children and adults is
key to promoting literacy in America. As we struggle to battle the
ever-increasing costs of health care in this nation, we may also consider
literacy in America as key in our fight. Literacy affects an individual’s
ability to learn about different insurance policy options, complete an
application for insurance coverage, understand diseases and disorders, and read
prescription bottles and dosage instructions. This inability to properly care
for oneself as well as the resulting lack of preventative care results in an
increased occurrence of emergency care needed. Since these individuals may also
lack proper insurance coverage, or the ability to pay for insurance coverage,
unpaid hospital bills flood the nation. This cost is passed on to other

Providing help for citizens with impaired reading skills is
integral to ensuring economic prosperity in our future. As a concerned citizen,
you can help by joining a volunteer program that provides lessons in reading
skills. In doing so, you not only serve to improve the success and well-being of
the individuals who seek assistance, you help to promote the continued economic
success of America.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

HEEDtweet : Who's TED?

...actually not a who but a what. TED is a non-profit that is committed to ideas worth spreading. They often spread these ideas through informative annual conferences. is a website featuring "worth-watching" speeches from the world's leading thinkers and doers.

Want an example?
Ok, let's look at something refreshing that relates to teaching! While looking for something completely unrelated a HEEDblog enthusiast came across this video of Salman Khan, creator of Khan Academy on TED.

Who's Salman Khan?

A former hedge fund analyst who began posting math tutorials on YouTube. Six years later, he has posted more than 2.000 tutorials, which are viewed nearly 100,000 times around the world each day. Also, he quite his job at the hedge fund to create the Khan Academy.

Full bio here.