For some time now I have been involved in research that examines the impact of elevated blood lead levels on student achievement. This falls into a category of problems that are related to the impact of environmental health on student achievement and school success. I think it is critical that this area of investigation be given more attention. In many cases these environmental health issues are generational in that the parents of the students affected were also affected by these environmental factors as were their parents. Until more attention is given to these issues large numbers of high poverty, urban students will continue to be left behind while we close schools due to poor performance. Our research shows very clearly, with high significance, that the higher an individual's blood lead level between birth and 5 years of age the lower they score on all education assessment tests as they grow. Unless we begin to address these conditions through more intensive early childhood education programs these students will continue to struggle and potentially drop out of the education system.
This is a landmark study of great significance. This project resulted from collaboration between the City of Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion (DHWP) and the Detroit Public Schools Office of Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability. It took 18 months to work out a memorandum of understanding that allowed us to take all of the venous blood lead testing data for individuals living in the City of Detroit from DHWP, 169,301 records, and match that data with a Detroit Public Schools (DPS) student database. The data is from 1992-2008 so it is longitudinal. We were able to identify over 45,000 currently enrolled DPS students in the blood lead testing database. You will find a more information at:
Most large cities with Health Departments have this type of data available as they are required to keep the records. The key to better understanding is the development of the memorandum of understanding that makes it possible to combine the data from the schools and health department so a better understanding of the educational impact can be explored. I believe that this is one of the greatest educational achievement problems that exists in eastern US urban centers of high poverty. More than 25% of the current school population of DPS had elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) between birth and 5 years old. When the data is examined by school enrollment, DPS has over 40 schools where the more than 35% of the school population had EBLLs. Under no child left behind, declining enrollment and the financial conditions in DPS schools have been closed because they do not make AYP when a high percentage of the population performs poorly due to past environmental health related issues.