27 Dec, 2015

US | Legislation to support schools may help reduce health barriers to learning

The Hill |  Irwin Redlener, M.D. and Jane Pauley | 25 December 2015

Amidst the intense media coverage of terrorism, mass shootings and presidential primary hoopla, a glimmer of domestic good news emerged earlier this month when President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act – or, ESSA. This is worth noting because the new act reauthorizes what was once called No Child Left Behind, but makes a series of adjustments and updates that address some of the problems and controversies (like Common Core and over- testing) that emerged following the original bill signed by President George W. Bush in 2001.

Abstract| Why is this important? And why use education-focused dollars to support healthcare?

The answer is primarily because medical problems with educational consequences are far more common than most educators and parents likely realize.  Health screenings by Children’s Health Fund, for instance, have shown that more than one in five elementary students in three low-performing New York City schools failed their vision screening.  Without glasses, these children can have difficulty seeing the board or reading homework assignments, thus severely undermining their performance in school.

Some 10 percent of students in these same schools failed hearing screening.  Another 23 percent of students have an asthma diagnosis, which is more than two times the prevalence in the general population.  Among those students, many have asthma that is under treated, leading to nighttime coughing, lost sleep, inattention in class, and chronic absences. And some insufficiently treated asthmatic kids actually experience serious wheezing crises in class, often requiring a 911 call and a trip to the hospital emergency department.  Such attacks are dangerous for the child and highly disruptive for the rest of the class.

Certain behavioral problems, persistent dental pain and recurrent hunger can also erode a child’s ability to concentrate and learn.  What’s more, persistent untreated health concerns like these lead to excessive rates of absenteeism, even further exacerbating educational challenges for children, especially those already facing economic and social adversities.