For millions of Americans, last year's Presidential election ushered in a new era of hope.
Spring 1993
By Peter Goldberg

Every new Administration comes to power with a set of new promises, stirring ambitions and good intentions.

For those among us whom the American dream bypassed during this past decade, change certainly beats the status quo; change conveys hope and opportunity.

This issue of AMERICA'S AGENDA takes a peep through the windows of possible change, and explores what change could mean in areas such as early‑childhood education, the impact of technology on education, and the future pathways from school to work. It is easy to get excited about the future.

Reality confronts us with a more sobering set of challenges. Here are five of them to consider.

First, the scope of the issues we must address is broader than we like to acknowledge. The problems children face transcend a limited definition of education. Accomplishing school reform, by itself, does not insure that the vast majority of children not doing well in school now will necessarily become productive, successful adults. Millions of American children face a myriad of problems, of which a lousy public school may just be one. Indeed, absent efforts to improve the lives and living conditions of children, I would argue that the future potential of the school reform movement is increasingly limited.

Second, the numbers of children in need of different forms of public assistance are stunning. Nearly one in four children under the age of six in this country -that's more than five million kids‑ lives in conditions of poverty. More than eight million American children have no health care insurance whatsoever. Each year nearly one million children are born to mothers who did not receive early prenatal care and 25,000 are born at low birthweight. Violence abounds. Every thirteen seconds, an American child is reported abused or neglected. Nearly two million teenagers were victims of violent crimes in 1990. All these and many more dreadful statistics can be found in the recent Children's Defense Fund report, The State of America's Children, 1992. They form an awful indictment of us and an awesome challenge. No excitement here.

Third, the depth of the problems many children face cannot be magically reversed by some new policy or program. A fetal alcohol baby or a baby born addicted to crack cocaine may never lead a normal life. The emotional scars of child abuse or neglect may or may not heal. Children living in shelters, welfare hotels and public housing tenements face circumstances every day which we might consider traumatic, but which they consider routine.


Faced with the scope, numbers and depth of the problem is an American government in fiscal distress. The budget deficit is real, and really big. Any national effort to meaningfully improve the lives and living conditions of American children in distress can't be done on the cheap. The harsh reality has been that even programs with proven track records of success for children‑such as Head Start, the Women, Infants, Children program, and child immunizations‑are underfunded. So where will the money for a comprehensive commitment to children come from?

This brings us to the final consideration: the national will.

Extraordinary changes in our social and family landscape have shifted more and more of the responsibility for the well‑being of children to government. We have perfected the "business­-speak" language of investments to broaden public support for more government funding for children's programs‑since apparently the moral imperative argument hasn't worked. Unless we take the language of investments and transform it quickly into meaningful actions, that language will be nothing more than empty phrases and false promises.

The hopes of a new era notwithstanding, millions of kids -whether they know it or not‑ have a lot riding on the good intentions of children's advocates and concerned educators, inside of government and out.

Peter Goldberg is president of The Prudential Foundation, headquartered in Newark, NJ