What's behind being behind: A population-based investigation of multiple risks and school success

Heather L Rouse, University of Pennsylvania


No Child Left Behind (2001) requires all children to meet minimum academic standards by grade three. This mandate underscores the importance of early childhood intervention and the need for comprehensive methodological approaches to understand groups of children most vulnerable to early educational difficulty. The current study used a developmental-epidemiological approach to examine empirically the nature and extent of poverty, child maltreatment, homelessness, low maternal education, and birth risk for an entire population of urban second grade children. Findings from this study indicate that over 50% of these children experience two or more risk factors prior to second grade. The prevalence of each individual risk factor was over twice the national averages. Multiple logistic regression analyses of multifinality and equifinality revealed distinct patterns of risk related to cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Poverty, maltreatment, and homelessness were the most detrimental risk factors that negatively related to every outcome. Reading and mathematics achievement were significantly affected by every risk. Cumulative analyses revealed that the number of risk experiences significantly related to poor outcomes, regardless of the type of risk. No Child Left Behind makes visible the fact that many children are not meeting minimum academic standards. It also makes visible the schools that are behind by implementing a zero tolerance accountability system for failure. Unfortunately, this legislation fails to make visible what's behind being behind. The current research study uncovers the multiple risk context that is significantly associated educational failures and thereby provides an opportunity to address equity. Educating children challenged by a disproportionate set of multiple risks calls for an allocation of resources capable of meeting these challenges. Moreover, this study illustrates a collaborative model that enhances the capacity to reveal what's behind being behind and makes visible the multiple public service agencies that are simultaneously charged with the well-being of children who are behind. This research calls for a broader multidisciplinary research agenda that empirically manifests risk and protective factors to promote educational well being for all children in public education, regardless of the challenges they face.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Rouse, Heather L, "What's behind being behind: A population-based investigation of multiple risks and school success" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3260979.