Identifying the Most Pressing Questions in Education

December 01, 2014

HSC submitted comments to the USDA in an effort to help identify the most pressing questions in education.

“What major evaluations could have the biggest impact on preschool through Grade 12 education—providing information that could drive significant improvement in the ways that teachers, principals, and policymakers provide education to American students?”

This question was posed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in a recent request to help identify the most pressing questions in education policy or practice. The answer to this question could provide extremely helpful information about how to better educate students. A recently enacted law provides ED with additional resources to fund rigorous evaluations of education programs. ED’s goal is to use this new funding “to support the development of findings that have the rigor and power to inform significant improvements in how schools, districts, states, and the federal government provide services to students.”

What better way to impact school outcomes than by ensuring our students are healthy and ready to learn? Research clearly shows that healthy students are better learners, but this is an important opportunity to evaluate interventions and see what works best. At Healthy Schools Campaign, we submitted comments [PDF] suggesting that ED examine the following questions:

  • How does increased access to school health services, including physical, mental, dental, vision and behavioral services, impact the education and health outcomes of students in a school? While educators know that healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed in school, the delivery of health services to students currently is not prioritized by schools, districts and states. This is due a to lack of resources and a lack of understanding about the impact that access to regular school health services can have on education goals and outcomes. Collecting evidence that demonstrates access to school health services is critical to supporting academic achievement will make a strong case for investment in and support of school health services.
  • What are the primary health issues that contribute to chronic absenteeism? While the causes of chronic absenteeism (defined as missing 10% or more school days in a school year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences) are multi-fold, research shows that student health issues are a leading cause. However, most school districts do not systematically collect information about why students are absent from school, making it challenging to identify the primary causes, including health issues that might be leading to high rates of chronic absence in a school. Determining the primary health issues that are contributing to chronic absenteeism in a given community is a critical question that must be answered if effective interventions are to be implemented.

Evaluating the impact of having regular access to school health services and evaluating the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism, including health issues, has the potential to provide critical information to educators, parents and local, state and federal governments to enable significant improvements in education. We commend ED for seeking suggestions as to what evaluations would be most useful and hope that they use this opportunity as a way to support healthier school environments.

You can read our full comments here. [PDF]