Integrating Health and Education: Exploring Policy and Regulatory Opportunities for Change

February 25, 2014 | Written By:

Reshaping systems to truly support children’s wellness and learning.

We were thrilled recently to share an update on HSC’s efforts as part of the Working Group on Health and Education as this work transitions to a new phase in the year ahead. This Working Group, convened by former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin at HSC’s recommendation, has focused on ways that our health and education systems can work together to help close the achievement gap and reverse the trends that, unless we make some significant changes, will lead today’s children to live shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.

HSC President and CEO Rochelle Davis served as co-chair of the Working Group with Jeff Levi, chair of the Prevention Advisory Group and executive director of the Trust for America's Health. The former Surgeon General charged this group with a set of tasks that, in essence, mean changing our nation’s paradigm around school health. The Working Group took this charge to heart and has recommended a set of priorities for moving forward, including a proposal to form a National Collaborative on Health and Education.

We invite you to join us in thinking through some of the key issues that the Working Group has identified.

Since January, we’ve been taking a look at key issues identified by the Working Group on Health and Education. As we look at the final issue this group identified, we’re inspired to remember the fundamental goal of Health in Mind: to reshape our health and education systems in a way that truly supports both children’s wellness and their learning. This type of transformation involves people across many sectors working to make significant change.

Underpinning all of this effort is a need to understand the ways that policy has shaped our current system and how changing current policy can help reshape our system into one that more fully supports health and learning.

Our current system, one in which health and education are addressed almost completely separately despite the very practical ways these issues are interconnected, did not simply spring into existence as the only possible model. This system developed as a result of policy decisions people made over the years. The results — some intentional, some inadvertent — are what we think of today as the norm.

The ways that our system is shaped by policy are not always easy to see. But this often-invisible element can be a powerful force for making change on a large scale. For example, policy or regulatory change has the potential to make a major impact for metrics, system redesign and other issues we’ve recently blogged about.

Now, the Working Group has recommended continued exploration of this important element of system change. The group has asked, “What are the policy or regulatory opportunities that can support systems redesign, the development and integration of metrics, workforce development and other areas that support schools in creating the conditions of health for students?”

Here at HSC, we’ve explored this issue at a variety of levels and have learned again and again that it is key to true transformation. Locally in Chicago, for example, we engage with parents, teachers, school nurses, community members and school system officials to support changes to both policy and practice. (You can read more about HSC’s work in Chicago here.) Our work at the state level includes advocacy for direct policy change such as state laws requiring health-promoting green cleaning in schools. It also includes more regulatory change such as integrating health into state school report cards. At the federal level, we collaborated with Trust for America’s Health to lead a series of discussions and publish the Health in Mind report focused on practical changes that the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services can make to more fully integrate health and education.

We believe policy change is essential to ensuring that every child has a healthy school. Our ability to truly integrate health and education will require us to look closely at the ways that policy shapes the school experience and to consider the potential it has to support children’s wellness and learning. We look forward to sharing updates as the Working Group moves ahead with this dialogue.

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