Friday, February 10, 2012

Education Gap Between Rich & Poor

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say
NY Times: 2.09.2012 by Sabrina Tavernise

WASHINGTON — Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, “Whither Opportunity?” compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season. READ MORE !

Friday, February 3, 2012

Health Literacy

Why Consumers Struggle to Understand Healthcare 1.27.2012

Older patients, caregivers, and family members face growing challenges in understanding and navigating the nation's increasingly complex healthcare system. Consumer illiteracy, long applied to financial matters, also has become an enormous issue in healthcare.

Sophisticated drugs and dosages are more complicated. With many seniors being treated for multiple chronic diseases, there can be dangerous interactive effects of taking medications for these differing problems. Dealing with medical professionals is also often challenging. Consumers don't understand medical language and many healthcare professionals seem incapable of speaking in any other tongue.

"Tens of millions of Americans have limited health literacy," according to a recent article in the journal Health Affairs that was authored by half a dozen government health officials, including Donald Berwick, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "Despite its importance," the experts said, "health literacy has until recently been relegated to the sidelines of healthcare improvement efforts."

Consumer difficulties in understanding healthcare communications can lead to a worsening cycle of health problems, including:
• The reduced ability to interpret medication labels and health messages
• Failure to select and enroll in the most appropriate health insurance plans
• Failure to understand and use the services provided by their health plans
• Problems taking medicines correctly
• Reduced use of a growing array of free preventive medical services
• More hospitalizations and readmissions
• Greater use of costly emergency room care
• Worse health outcomes and earlier deaths