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To Close Achievement Gap, U.S. Must Address Health Risks for Urban Minority Youth, TC's Basch Will Argue at March 9th Forum

In an event in Milbank Chapel, TC's Charles Basch will be joined by Matt Yale, aide to U.S. Education Secretary Duncan, and Howell Wechsler of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Or to register for the Webcast, visit Download the full text of Basch's study "Healthier Students Are Better Learners". A set of Summary PowerPoint Slides provides an overview of key statistical findings in the study.
Seven major health risks are disproportionately affecting the educational opportunities and outcomes of the nation’s urban minority youth, and must be addressed in a coordinated fashion at the federal, state and local levels or efforts to close America’s education achievement gap will be compromised.

That is the key message of “Healthier Students Are Better Learners,” a sweeping new meta-study by Charles E. Basch, the Richard March Hoe Professor of Health and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, which brings together recent findings from in fields ranging from neurosciences and child development to epidemiology and public health.

Basch will present key findings from his research at the College’s Milbank Chapel on Tuesday, March 9th, from 3-5 pm, at a special forum that will also include Matthew Yale, Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Howell Wechsler, a TC alumnus who serves as Director of the Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH) for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teachers College is located in Upper Manhattan at 525 West 120th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. Members of the media who wish to attend should contact Joe Levine at 212 678-3176.

The event, presented by TC’s Campaign for Educational Equity, will also be Webcast live at
Download the full text of Basch’s study "Healthier Students Are Better Learners". A set of Summary PowerPoint Slides provides an overview of key statistical findings in the study.

“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.”  

Basch argues that the pathways by which the seven “educationally relevant health disparities” affect student outcomes overlap resulting in  synergistic effects. Thus addressing them in isolation, as most school programs currently do, will not have consistent or large effects. Conversely, addressing them in a coordinated  fashion, will pay a dividend that exceeds the sum of its parts.

Basch chose to focus on the seven “educationally relevant health disparities” he identifies -- poor vision; asthma; teen pregnancy; aggression and violence; insufficient physical activity; insufficient breakfast; and inattention and hyperactivity – in part because of their prevalence and because each disproportionately affects urban minority youth. Nevertheless, he strongly emphasizes that while these seven risk factors are important, “the expectation is not that every urban public school should have the same priorities,” and priorities may vary according to local need and capacity.   

“The key for any school health program is that it must be high quality, strategically planned and effectively coordinated,” Basch says. 

Among his study’s findings:

  • Between 2001 and 2003, for youth between the ages of 5 and 14, the annual prevalence of asthma was 45 percent higher for black children than for whites, and the rate of asthma-driven emergency room visits was three times higher. Asthma is a major cause of school absenteeism.
  • In 2006, the birth rate among 15- to 17-year-old non-Hispanic black females was more than three times as high as the birth rate among non-Hispanic whites in the same age group, and the birth rate for Hispanic females was more than four times as high. Teens that become pregnant are dramatically less likely to complete high school or college.
  • Hispanic and black students were far likelier to have missed at least one school day during the past 30 because of feeling unsafe at school or traveling to or from school. In the past year, 35.5 percent of all high school students reported being in at least one physical fight, a more common experience among blacks and Hispanics than whites (44.7 percent and 40.4 percent respectively, versus 31.7 percent). Hispanic females were 56 percent more likely and black females 83 percent more likely to have been in a physical fight in the past year than white females.

But Basch also believes the nation should target these seven health risks because there is both extensive documentation of their causal effects on educational outcomes and compelling evidence of the feasibility of implementing proven or promising school-based programs and policies to address them.  The key, he says, is that research from here on out must no longer focus exclusively on proving that interventions are effective, but instead on “understanding ways to implement proven and promising program approaches, in a strategic and coordinated way, in the challenging context of urban public schools.”

Arguing that the time for coordinated interventions is especially ripe because of new coordinated funding streams created by the Obama Administration, Basch makes an extensive series of recommendations for implementing his ideas, including:

  • Communication by leaders at all levels that school health programs are an essential component of school reform
  • Integration of school health efforts into policy mandates and accountability measures
  • Extra investments in schools with the lowest local property base – i.e., the poorest schools, where health disparities are likely to be the greatest
  • The pooling of resources and programs by non-government organizations and foundations with a stake in health and education outcomes
  • Greater emphasis by colleges of education on health topics and skills in their professional preparation programs.
  • The creation of projects in multiple schools to demonstrate the benefits of a coordinated approach to the seven educationally relevant health disparities.

Basch is an expert on behavioral epidemiology, health education program planning and evaluation, and urban and minority populations. He has conducted major evaluations of health interventions among low-income urban minority populations.   

Published Monday, Mar. 1, 2010


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