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Nailing down the numbers on US students and schools

New plans and opinions come cheap and plenty in the world of education. But when you need some hard statistics, the pickings are scarce, until you find demographer Harold Hodgkinson. Dr. Hodgkinson knows the facts: Every day, 40 teen-age mothers in America have their third child. Eighty percent of United States population growth now takes place in five states. Blacks and Hispanics accounted for less than 2 percent of the PhDs in science in 1985. Forty-nine percent of business school graduates last year were women.

These data are Hodgkinson's tools. He is less prone than analysts like Daniel Yankelovich to look at the psychology of social trends. A former director of the National Institute of Education - now with the American Council on Education - he finds the place where conscience, public policy, social change, school reform, and the economy intersect - by nailing down the numbers.

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``What is the student body of the year 2000 going to look like?'' Hodgkinson asks. ``The fact is, we already know.'' At least 23 percent will exist below the poverty line; 7 percent will need bilingual help; more than 40 percent will be non-Anglo. About 12 states, including Texas and California, will have ``majority minority'' populations.

The issue of ``at risk'' youth and new populations is a special Hodgkinson focus. His concerns echo those of the Committee on Economic Development, a group of corporate leaders whose September report shows that up to 30 percent of the potential US work force - children - face a ``major risk of educational failure and lifelong dependency,'' becoming a ``permanent underclass.'' While 17 workers paid for each retiree in 1960, the figure will be 3 to 1 by 2000, and one of the three will have been ``at risk.''

``As we get more elderly people, and as the white middle class moves toward retirement,'' Hodgkinson said in an interview, ``our social security benefits will be paid for by a work force that is heavily female and minority.''

Demographic projections show the US teen-age population in decline through 1998. The number of baby-boomer DINKs (double-income, no-kids couples) is rising - a main reason is that the birthrate among whites has dropped from 2.9 to 1.7 children per mother. The black birthrate remains steady at 2.5, Hispanics at 2.9.

``These students are going to be vital to our economic future. How many of them can we lose? The answer - fewer than yesterday,'' says Hodgkinson. ``We can't afford to let them fail. This is one issue where pragmatists and idealists can agree.''

Hodgkinson travels the country weekly, toting his overhead projector from which emanates an endless flow of information, charts, maps described with a wry sense of humor. (``Before arguing against spending, remember that it costs seven times more to send someone to the state pen than to Penn State.'')

He has just finished seven brief-but-pithy reports on the demographics of five states (California, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Texas), and nine more studies are under contract. (They are available through the Institute for Educational Leadership, Washington, D.C.)

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The main policy finding in this research, says Hodgkinson, is that ``the solution for Arizona is not the solution in Connecticut.'' In one state, the answer may be smaller classes; it may be ``systematic overspending'' on teachers in another - California's current effort.

The one area in which both state and federal governments can improve is early childhood intervention. The Head Start program for disadvantaged youth has been ``wildly successful.''

A bright sign is more parent involvement: PTA membership is up one-third, ``most of them single parents.''

Hodgkinson defends American education. ``Schools and colleges are always the culprits,'' he says. Yet schools have been very resilient. In the '50s they embodied greater equality. In the '60s - innovation. The '70s - relevance. The '80s - excellence. ``The best sellers today are about how poor US education is. How many books do you read about excellence in state government?''

Head Start successes 1985 survey of 19-year-olds

Head Non Head

Start Start Employed: 59% 32% Grad HS: 62% 49% College: 38% 21%

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