Advancing the Work of the National Collaborative on Education and Health

September 16, 2015

How can we make the case connecting chronic absenteeism to health? What are effective interventions for addressing the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism? What are proven, school-based models for preventing substance use?

These are just some of the questions that the National Collaborative on Education and Health has been tackling over the past four months as it does a deeper dive into two issues that have a significant impact on student health and wellness: chronic absenteeism and substance use.

The Collaborative, which Healthy Schools Campaign convenes in partnership with Trust for America’s Health, has brought together over 100 advocates, policymakers, school stakeholders and funders over the past two years to develop strategies that support the success and well-being of students across the country. Chronic absenteeism and substance use prevention were identified by the Collaborative’s steering committee as key opportunities for bringing the health and education sectors together to transform the conditions of health in schools and have been the focus of the Collaborative’s work in 2015. In May, the Chronic Absenteeism Working Group and Substance Use Working Group met for the first time to develop recommendations and strategies for advancing work on these issues.

Chronic Absenteeism Working Group

Chronic absenteeism — or missing 10 percent or more of school days per year for any reason, excused or unexcused — is an early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout. As we’ve written about before, a leading cause of chronic absenteeism is student health issues. While there are efforts across the country to address chronic absenteeism, definitions are not consistent; the focus is often on unexcused absences at the middle and high school level, and few interventions address the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism.

The Chronic Absenteeism Working Group met in May and August and brought together nearly 30 health and education leaders to develop strategies for engaging the health and public health sectors in efforts to address chronic absenteeism. Participants shared and identified innovative strategies taking place across the country to address the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism.

For example, the E3 Alliance shared their absence reasons study which found that the single largest reported cause of Central Texas student absences is acute illness. In response to this data, the E3 Alliance led the largest in-school flu immunization campaign in Texas history, with more than 6,500 vaccines given at 56 primarily Title 1 schools in five districts. The campaign brought together partners in health, public health, education and philanthropy. The 2015 flu immunization campaign is expected to quadruple the size.

As a result of the group’s efforts, we are working to finalize a number of tools that communities across the country can use to implement interventions to address the health related causes of chronic absenteeism.

In addition, the working group’s efforts informed a soon-to-be-announced national chronic absenteeism effort led by the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of this effort is to build federal, state and local, multi-sector efforts to address chronic absenteeism. Learn more about and support this national effort here.

Substance Use and Schools Working Group

Substance use remains a serious problem in the nation’s schools and negatively impacts student achievement and health. It’s important to determine how the education and health systems can work together to address this issue. This was the key focus of the Substance Use Working Group which met in May and August and brought together more than 30 health and education leaders to identify best practices and emerging models for prevention of substance use.

While there are evidence-based models for addressing substance use, such as theGood Behavior Game and Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), there is not widespread adoption of these models. The group discussed strategies for supporting broader adoption of substance use prevention and intervention models, including options for funding, changes in federal, state and local policies and the formation of local coalitions to build the diverse political and financial support necessary to launch and sustain substance use prevention and early intervention initiatives.

One of the exciting projects to emerge is EPISCenter, a state-level initiative based out of Pennsylvania State University that focuses on translating prevention science to practice and promoting positive outcomes for Pennsylvania’s youth. EPISCenter has successfully supported the adoption of evidence-based substance use prevention and intervention programs throughout Pennsylvania. This example serves as an excellent model of a state-level effort to support the adoption of effective programs in communities.

This is just one example of the dynamic initiatives that really driving change in our country. It’s programs like this that these working groups are trying to elevate so these successful models can be replicated.

The National Collaborative tackles challenging issues. These working groups are just the start of the conversation. We don’t have all the answers yet, but these meetings allow us to explore and identify promising strategies to support the success and well-being of all students across the country.