Using Kids Count to turn data into action
The Michigan League for Public Policy has produced the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book since 1992. And, while child well-being in Michigan has fluctuated during the last 27 years, a few things have been constant: the integrity of our data, the goal to generate policy change, and the intent to lift up the needs — and the potential — of all kids.
The Kids Count book reviews background and trend data to evaluate the well-being of children throughout communities in Michigan and identifies policy strategies that could improve outcomes. The report analyzes 16 key indicators across four domains: 1) economic security, 2) health and safety, 3) family and community, and 4) education.
Those domains and indicators enable us to get the full picture of how kids in Michigan and our counties — including Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency and Presque Isle — are doing. What is their family’s economic situation like? Are they getting enough to eat at home and at school? Are they being kept healthy and safe beginning with prenatal care before they’re born and through adulthood? Are they being protected from abuse or neglect? How are they doing in school?
And what can we do differently to help them?
As our name states, the Michigan League for Public Policy works on public policy, not data collection. All of that data is already being collected by thorough and well-respected entities like the U.S. Census Bureau, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Michigan Department of Education. We get our numbers from the original sources. The statistics are not subjective or biased. Our job is to compile the data, analyze it, and give it context.
But, most importantly, our job is to put the data to work. A vital section in the book is entitled “Data Into Action,” because that is the primary goal of the book — to lay out data to help illustrate the state of Michigan’s children and to be used as a tool to make informed policy decisions.
Note that I said the data book is a tool. It is and has always been meant to be informative, not punitive. The data book is designed to help lawmakers, local service providers and officials, community members, and parents understand and evaluate the needs of kids –including what policies and programs are working and where we need to focus our efforts.
The book is intended to lift up progress and good news, as well as continued areas of improvement that are needed for kids in our communities.
For example, in this year’s book, Alpena County saw major improvement in the rate of children in poverty and the rate of students graduating from high school on time. Alcona County also saw the rate of children in poverty improve. Montmorency County saw a big drop in the rate of births to teens and more 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool. And Presque Isle County’s rate of low-birthweight babies and births to teens both improved.
Plus, all four of those counties saw an improvement in the share of students considered college-ready based on the SAT benchmarks, a measure used by the Michigan Department of Education.
In examining education, the data book includes indicators that cover the breadth of each child’s academic career, from preschool to high school graduation. Three education indicators are based on standardized test results in third grade, eighth grade, and 11th grade. While there are certainly mixed opinions among parents and educators alike on standardized tests, we use them because, one, they are standardized and the same for all students around the state, and two, they are data being collected, used and made available by the state Department of Education.
However, we understand that not all high school students are college-bound and some will pursue skilled trades or head right into the workforce. But, with our job market and economy becoming more and more dependent on some type of college degree or certification, and the SAT being specifically designed to assess a student’s readiness for their next steps after high school, we still think it is an important indicator to examine as a part of many other measures of how children are doing.
Our kids are Michigan’s most valuable resource and they hold the keys to our future. The strategies for improving child well-being may vary for kids depending on their needs — which are identified through the data.
However, one thing is clear: Everyone wants every child in our state to thrive, whether they’re in Alpena, Ann Arbor or Allendale. State policymakers can either take the necessary steps to ensure adequate investments in our kids are made, or Michigan and its communities can continue to struggle while other states move ahead.
Alicia Guevara Warren is Kids Count in Michigan project director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.