Reducing Health Disparities is the Missing Link in Closing the Achievement Gap.

The intricacies of the economic meltdown elude me, I carefully read Paul Krugman, watch Congressional hearings, scan the  seemingly endless reports: were we ripped off by the banks, inadequate regulations, gullible buyers, greedy buyers, who is at fault and what are the solutions?  Should foreclosures be halted? I’m really don’t know.
When the discussion turns to schools I do know, and I’m saddened.
“Waiting for Superman,” Michelle Rhee, Charter Schools, Race to the Top will not, I repeat, will not turn around a stumbling school system.
Students must come to school prepared to learn, the motivation of the teacher, the ability of the school leader and quality of the curriculum will not make the difference if students are handicapped by student health issues: their chances of school success are impaired.
Charles Basch is a professor at Columbia University and a leading advocate for focusing on the health needs of students tells us,
“No matter how well teachers are prepared to teach, no matter what accountability measures are put in place, no matter what governing structures are established for schools, educational progress will be profoundly limited if students are not motivated and able to learn,” writes Basch. “Health-related problems play a major role in limiting the motivation and ability to learn of urban minority youth, and interventions to address those problems can improve educational, as well as health outcomes. This is why reducing educationally relevant health disparities must be a fundamental part of school reform.”  
At a Citizen’s Committee for Children forum Professor Basch tied the achievement gap to health disparities in a presentation, “Healthier Students are Better Learners: Reducing Educationally Relevant Health Disparities is a Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap among Urban Minority Youth.”
Basch pointed to sharp disparities between urban black and Hispanic youngsters and non-minority youngsters in the following areas (see excellent power point here),
* vision: 20% greater with undiagnosed and/or treated vision problems.
* asthma: 14% higher among urban black and Hispanics under 18 years of age.
* teen pregnancy: 1:3 among black and Hispanic girls
* aggression and violence: 28% more report being a victim of violence or bullying
* physical activity: 2/3 not enough
* breakfast: 20% skip breakfast
* ADHD: 8% of black and Hispanic youth between 6 – 17 are diagnosed.
While this data is national the local response, as elsewhere, is woeful. Only 15% of schools in New York City have health clinics and the quality of the clinics varies widely. Federal and State dollars are scarce and onerous confidentiality regulations while well-intended deprive families and children of services.
The Mayor supports a tax on sugary beverages, outlawed smoking in restaurants and public spaces, forced the posting of transfat and calorie info while he ignores health issues in schools. Vision screening takes place in every school, follow up to assure proper treatment is haphazard.
Every hospital that receives city funding should be required to support school-based health clinics. Montefiore supports health services in a cluster of Bronx schools (see description here), Maimonides chooses not to involve themselves in any school clinics. Asthma is an epidemic in the poorest neighborhoods in the city: how is the city responding in the schools that educate the poorest kids?  Asthma results in absence, lateness, inattention, and, untreated, worsens. School-based health clinics can provide medication as well as train students and parents in appropriate responses.
If the Mayor is to be taken seriously he must address the health needs of families and their children. Rather than allow the Department to continue in their ill-advised path he must require City agencies and the Department to greatly expand the number of school-based health centers and coordinate State, City and Department responses.
The Federal government does not acknowledge the relationship between education and health. The billions in Race to the Top and other federal education programs ignore health issues. Somehow merit pay and charter schools will make children see better, cure asthma and ADHD and eliminate teen pregnancy.
Sad indeed.

2 responses to “Reducing Health Disparities is the Missing Link in Closing the Achievement Gap.

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