In many areas, children are better off today than they were just seven years ago, said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley at the Opening General Session of APA's 2000 Annual Convention. The number of children living in poverty declined from 22 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 1998. Infant and adolescent mortality rates are down. Violent crime among young people has been cut in half. And the number of teen-age girls having children has dropped to a 40-year low.
"We're all working hard, conscientiously paying attention to our children," said Riley. "But, boy, we have a long way to go."
Riley, who was recognized with an APA Presidential Citation for his leadership, commitment to children and passion for education, focused on three particular concerns:
The special problems of boys. Boys and girls both face difficulties, Riley said, but "We have too many young men being tracked into special education in early years of school who become victims of low expectations....Our prisons are simply full of angry and uneducated young men." Instead of building prisons, he said, "we need to be building new and better schools."
Keeping children out of harm's way. "The well-publicized tragedies of the last two years remind us that we have to do a better job of protecting our children," said Riley. "Congress should pass common sense gun legislation that keeps dangerous weapons away from school." He also thanked APA for its guidance in developing the federal "Safeguarding Our Children: An Action Guide," which helps school officials customize plans to prevent and respond to violence.
Smoothing children's transitions. Riley noted that two critical points in children's lives are the transitions from middle school to high school and high school to adulthood. To help ease that transition, the U.S. Department of Education has developed a program called Gear Up, which links poor children in middle schools with colleges and universities to help young people think about going to college.
"The American rite of passage into adulthood seems to be the senior prom," said Riley. "But adulthood is not just getting dressed up and renting a limousine for the night....The senior year of high school right now seems to be a lost opportunity that we need to reclaim."
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