Improving Education by Supporting Student Health

November 01, 2013

HSC delivered thoughts to the Institute of Medicine on health disparities.

By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign

I was honored to be asked to speak to the Institute of Medicine (IOM)’s Roundtable on Population Health Improvement (Roundtable) in September and share our experience in working to support schools to create the conditions of health for students.  We are glad that the Roundtable recognizes the importance of making sure that schools are supporting student health both so that students are healthy and ready to learn and that students develop the knowledge and skills to develop lifelong healthy habits.

Our work is focused on making sure every student, faculty and staff member, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, has equal access to a healthy school environment which supports students’ well-being and builds a foundation for learning. In this environment, good nutrition, physical activity, basic safety, clean air and water, access to care, and education about how to make healthy choices allow students to thrive. A growing body of credible research validates the importance of student health to academic performance.

Building on lessons learned from our work with Chicago Public Schools and then with input from hundreds of experts across the country, I was pleased to be asked by the IOM to share thoughts on how to integrate health and wellness into education policy and practice so that schools are better  positioned to create the conditions to support student health.   I see three areas of enormous possibility:

  • Incorporating health metrics into data-based decision making systems. There is a strong sense that American education needs a stronger system for knowing where students are succeeding, where they are improving, and where they are struggling. Significant focus is being placed on developing data systems to provide that analysis. For example, most states are developing longitudinal data systems to track students over time.  To date, these data systems have focused almost exclusively on a narrowly defined set of desired academic competencies.  Given the impact that student health has on academic performance, leaving this information out of the analysis will miss an important set of information critical to supporting student success.

  • Incorporating health into school report cards or other efforts to inform the public on school performance. Report cards have long been part of the student experience, as have grades and tests. But within the past decade, these gauges have also been used to measure the school’s performance, often compared to other schools in the district and average state performance.  However, very few of these report cards include anything connecting to health and wellness.

  • Better preparing principals, teachers and others with the knowledge and skills to support student health.  The education sector is taking a hard look at how it prepares teachers, principals and administrators to meet the needs of students today.   As this rethinking is taking place, we want to make sure that educators are able to make sure that students are healthy and ready to learn.

I am glad that there is a growing interest in these ideas.  In Chicago, we have worked to have a health and wellness indicator included on the school report card, and we are currently working on a similar indicator for the Illinois state report card.  Similar efforts are underway in other places. We look forward to additional discussions with both public health advocates and educators to figure out how schools can create the conditions to support student health.

See the webcast of Rochelle’s presentation at IOM here.