Health Metrics: A Strategy for Prioritizing Health and Wellness in Education

April 15, 2014

New ways to develop a real picture of health service access

As we wrote about last month, for the first time the US Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has included questions in their survey that address student access to health services. Every other year, OCR collects information on schools across the country to identify inequities in education through its Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). However, absent from their data collection has been any mention of health. At least until now. The revised survey released in March includes questions asking how many full-time nurses, psychologists and/or social workers are employed by the school.

We know, and research has shown, that increasing access to school health services is an important strategy to support student health, but equally important is the need to better integrate health into the education system. Incorporating health information into data systems (like the CRDC), school accountability programs, education research and recognition programs, can ensure that student health and wellness are priorities and that school stakeholders understand the connection between health and learning. This was a key recommendation in HSC’s Health in Mind report.

While including these questions on the CRDC won’t place more nurses, social workers or psychologists in schools, it will help us develop a real picture of health service access and will allow us to better develop strategies to deliver the health services needed by our children. Including these new questions on the CRDC is an important step towards growing the capacity of the U.S. Department of Education to integrate health and wellness into its programs and practices.

Identifying strategies to better integrate health and wellness measures into the education system will be a key focus of the National Collaborative on Education and Health, a group HSC is co-chairing with Trust for America’s Health. Through this collaborative, HSC will work with education and health leaders across the country to develop the type of health and wellness measures that can be used to help states, school districts, schools, the public and policymakers better understand and support student health needs.

HSC commends OCR for recognizing the importance of school health services and taking this important first step towards addressing disparities in access that exist in the nation’s schools. We look forward to seeing the results of the next data collection efforts.