National Collaborative on Education and Health
HSC’s work is based on the simple notion that healthy students are better prepared to learn. We believe that our society can achieve better outcomes in both education and health by increasing connection and collaboration between the health and education sectors. Our work toward this vision focuses on the National Collaborative on Education and Health, a group we co-convene with Trust for America’s Health (TFAH).
The Challenge We Face
Each morning, as children enter thousands of classrooms across the country, schools are expected to deliver on the promise that a quality education will lead to a productive, prosperous life. Teachers are working hard to share lessons and build the knowledge, skills and habits that will help students succeed beyond the classroom.
But millions of students are not able to attend school in environments that support the connection between health and learning. They cannot engage in physical activity during the day, their school buildings lack healthy air, access to fresh water, nutritious food and/or a school nurse; all of which are important to supporting academic achievement. On top of that, one out of every four students has one or more health problems, such as asthma or diabetes, that further undermine her ability to focus in school or even attend.
Health and education systems are inextricably linked, yet they are missing key opportunities to work together to support student health and learning. If we can incorporate health and wellness into the school culture and environment, we can help close the academic achievement gap and ensure this generation does not become the first in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. Recognizing this connection and acting to strengthen collaboration between the health and education sectors is one of the most important steps we can take to support the success and well-being of the next generation.
This is the driving force of the National Collaborative on Education and Health.
To identify opportunities for the health and education sectors, individually and together with others, to contribute to ensuring that all children, regardless of income, race, ethnicity or geography, have the opportunity to be healthy and academically and developmentally successful, allowing them to reach their full potential as productive members of the United States.
Vision and Values
Educators know that healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed in school. Yet current health and education policy misses several simple, vital opportunities to boost academic success through health promotion and school wellness. The nation’s children are struggling academically and could become the first generation to live shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.
The nation must leverage the power of school wellness to boost learning and take advantage of learning opportunities to foster healthy habits that will be of value for a lifetime. We believe that prioritizing health in schools will yield lifelong benefits for the 52 million children currently in America’s schools—and that our nation’s future hinges on giving all children a chance for a healthy, brighter tomorrow.
Studies document what teachers, parents and education leaders know: Healthy students are more likely to attend school, are better able to focus in class and are more ready to learn, ultimately earning better grades and achieving more in school.
A healthier school environment is one in which all students have access to health services. The school setting supports students’ well-being and student health builds a foundation for learning. In this environment, good nutrition, physical activity, basic safety, clean air and water, access to care, and education about making healthy choices allow students to thrive. In a healthy school, students learn—through lessons and through example—to value their own health and that of the environment. Achieving this vision will require:
- Providing safe and healthy places to learn and play. All students deserve access to a clean and safe environment with good air quality. Schools should provide students with nutritious meals and opportunities for physical activity—including effective PE classes and recess—while eliminating unhealthy foods and teaching students about the importance of nutrition and activity.
- Recognizing health as an integral part of excellence in education. We must integrate health and wellness into the definition of a successful school and recognize the ways in which these elements support learning. As we evaluate school performance and seek to elevate successful practices, we must acknowledge the role that health and wellness play in student achievement.
- Closing the achievement gap, eliminating health disparities. Research shows that higher levels of achievement are often related to health—and that health problems are closely connected to hindered performance in school. Until we address the health disparities that many low-income minority students face, learning disparities will persist.
- Providing teachers, principals and school staff with knowledge and skills to create a healthy school environment. School personnel need information and support for proven, cost-effective strategies to improve the delivery of school health services, promote healthy and sustainable operations and implement healthy classroom practices.
- Ensuring access to needed health services to students at school. Access to health services is necessary to ensure students are healthy and ready to learn.
Making health services available at schools is an efficient and cost-effective way to reach the 52 million children who spend their days at school. Research shows that access to care—from a school nurse, for example—improves wellness and academic achievement.
- Connecting parents and community members with school-based health promotion efforts. In order for these efforts to succeed, school leaders must engage parents and community members in understanding the connection between student health and achievement. Such efforts can build support for a healthy environment and ensure that families take full advantage of care available at school.
By following this vision, we can create a better future for our nation by improving student health and wellness, and ensuring students are healthy and ready to learn.
Health in Mind
The work of the National Collaborative grew out of Health in Mind, an initiative created by Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health to highlight the need for increased collaboration between the education and health sectors. In 2012, HSC and TFAH released the report Health in Mind: Improving Education through Wellness and presented a set of key policy recommendations to then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a public event attended by advocates from both the health and education sectors, including the presidents of our nation’s largest education unions. More than 150 attendees from 80-plus organizations gathered for the presentation of these recommendations. More than 80 organizations signed on in support of the Health in Mind vision.
At this event, then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said:
“No one is going to push harder for higher graduation rates, lower drop-out rates and more students graduating ready for college than I am. But. . . I know the only way we can get there is if our students’ physical, emotional and social needs are being met. This work is extraordinarily important. Please hold me accountable for being a good partner and figuring out where we have students who aren’t getting the resources they need. We can’t use tough economic times as an excuse. Our children have one chance to get a good education.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said:
“Student health is critical to student learning—and yet neither the integration nor the investment is there in so many places, especially with all the budget cuts, to advance that. What this report does is, in very layman’s terms, say: this is what we need to do that kind of integration.”
We invite you to read the full Health in Mind report.
Working Group on Health and Education
Following the success of Health in Mind, then-Surgeon General Regina Benjamin convened the Working Group on Health and Education at the recommendation of HSC and TFAH.
“Health does not occur in the doctor’s office and hospitals only. Health also occurs where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play, and where we pray,” she said in the charge she issued to the Working Group in 2013. She charged the group with exploring the full potential of a multi-sector, public-private partnership in assuring that schools create the conditions of student health and wellness. In other words — while Health in Mind focused on the role of the federal government, the working group looked more broadly to both public and private leaders in the health and education sectors.
At the completion of its work, the Working Group recommended the formation of the National Collaborative on Education and Health.
Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health launched the Collaborative in March 2014. The Collaborative brings together advocates, policymakers, school stakeholders and funders to work toward more fully integrating education and health. This means building schools’ capacity to address the needs that exist today and the needs we can’t yet anticipate. It is also about building the health sector’s capacity to engage the community, including schools, in truly promoting health.
Health and Wellness Metrics
Given the education sector’s increased emphasis on data-based decision making and transparency and given the importance of health to all students’ ability to learn, there is an important opportunity for integrating health and wellness metrics into public reporting systems used by the education sector. Incorporating metrics for health and wellness into public reporting systems can provide educators, policymakers and the public with a more complete understanding of how student health and wellness are shaping learning and provide a complete framework for improving academic achievement.
Read the Metrics Working Group Report.
Health Systems Transformation
While schools have always been an important center for providing safety net and emergency care for students and having healthy students is important to learning, the growing complexity of the health challenges faced by our students requires a reexamination of the health-related services and programming available within schools and how they are financed. The time is right for this reexamination given the transformation taking place within the health system that puts more emphasis on prevention and population health.
Read the Health Systems Working Group Report.
Chronic absenteeism—or missing 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, excused or unexcused—is a proven early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout. While the causes of chronic absenteeism are multi-fold, research shows that student health issues are a leading contributor. As a result, ensuring students are able to attend school in healthy school environments is a critical strategy for addressing chronic absenteeism.
Read the Chronic Absenteeism Working Group Report.
Substance misuse remains a serious problem in the nation’s schools. However, very little focus has been placed on primary prevention and early screening and treatment. It is clear that a multi-pronged approach is needed: one that looks to universal interventions (reaching all school children) that are proven to prevent substance misuse in the first place, identification of those at high risk for substance misuse so more targeted interventions can be provided, and referral or provision of treatment for those who are already misusing substances.
Mental health and learning are deeply interwoven—strong mental health is a foundation for learning, and academic success impacts mental health. Despite growing evidence on what works to promote mental health, these interventions are not widely implemented in schools and early care and education. Evidence-based mental health interventions and positive school climate promotion strategies can support academic goals and improve outcomes for students, teachers and administrators. Thus, while positive mental health is a valid goal in and of itself, it is also central to the mission of teaching.
Current Initiatives + Next Steps
The steering committee of the National Collaborative has identified a number of opportunities for advancing the Collaborative’s efforts in the year ahead. These opportunities include:
Supporting implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act: In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act. The new Every Student Succeeds Act includes several provisions that support student health. Read more about ESSA, including what HSC is doing and what you can do, in the ESSA section of HSC’s site.
Advancing the U.S. Department of Education’s Every Student, Every Day initiative: In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Every Student, Every Day initiative which is working to galvanize multi-sector support to catalyze federal, state and local efforts to address chronic absenteeism. The Collaborative played a key role in informing the development and launch of this initiative and will continue to support its implementation. Read more about chronic absenteeism, including what HSC is doing and what you can do, in the chronic absenteeism section of HSC’s site.
Transforming school health services: The December 2014 reversal of the free care policy presents an important opportunity to increase access to and resources for school health services. States and school districts must now implement this change and the Collaborative is well-positioned to inform and disseminate guidance that can catalyze state and local efforts to leverage the reversal of the free care policy to increase access to school health services.
In the context of these opportunities, the Collaborative’s work will focus on supporting implementation of key health-promoting federal policies and programs, and building the capacity of states and school districts to advance student health and wellness. This will include a continued focus on chronic absenteeism and increasing access to school health services. It also includes support through the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative convened by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Read more about school health services, including what HSC is doing and what you can do, in the health policy section of HSC’s site.
We will share updates in this space as this work develops in the year ahead.
The National Collaborative for Education and Health is co-convened by Trust for America’s Health and Healthy Schools Campaign.
Co-Chairs of the National Steering Committee
President and CEO
Healthy Schools Campaign
President and CEO
Trust for America’s Health
Members of the National Steering Committee
Associate Executive Director
AASA: The School Superintendent’s Association
National Director, Healthy Schools
Co-chair of the National Coordinating Committee on School Health and Safety
President, Institute for Educational Leadership
Director, Coalition for Community Schools
Vice President of Program Strategy
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Senior Vice President, Community Health and Benefit and Chief Community Health Officer
President and CEO
The Learning Policy Institute
Co-Founder and President
The Opportunity Institute
Elaine Gantz Berman
State Board of Education Member
Colorado State Board of Education
Kevin T. Gilbert
Executive Committee Member
National Education Association
Chairperson, Council on School Health
American Academy of Pediatrics
Director, Health Division
National Governors Association
Senior Vice President of Impact
United Way Worldwide
Professor of Health Policy and Management
Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George
Director, Education Program
The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
Associate Director, Policy Analysis Center, ORAL
National Council of La Raza
Mary Cathryn Ricker
Executive Vice President
American Federation of Teachers
Karen Seaver Hill
Director of Children’s Advocacy
Children’s Hospital Association
Vice President – Healthy Schools Program
Alliance for a Healthier Generation
Monica Hobbs Vinluan
Senior Program Officer
Ex Officio Members of the National Steering Committee
Director of External Engagement
Office of the Surgeon General
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Children’s Health
Chief Medical Officer
Office of Assistant Secretary for Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Deputy Director for Demand Reduction
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
U.S. Department of Education
Assistant Deputy Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
The work of the National Collaborative for Education and Health is generously supported by:
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Kaiser Permanente
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Many thanks to our supporters.
National Collaborative Resources
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