This was posted last September and I have included some changes and updates.
Talking about children and lead poisoning can quickly make you look like a harbinger of bad news–a real Debbie Downer. Lead poisoning is probably not a problem for most children, but it is a serious issue for children who live in certain communities. And I also would remind you to be careful if you live in an old house that could still contain lead paint etc.
There are reformers who go so far as to scoff at this issue.
But shouldn’t there be some conversation about the effects lead exposure might still have on, first of all, children and their health, and also their low test scores? There are current studies–just little if any conversation.
Has the lead disappeared? No!
Several years ago my husband and I stumbled upon an old house for sale. The price was phenomenally low and it was in a beautiful location. We seriously thought about making an offer and were excited about the prospect of remodeling. After discussing all the work that needed to be done, we decided not to move forward.
One thing we learned was that, being so old, the house would need special consideration for lead removal. It added somewhat to the cost of remodeling. This wasn’t the main reason we decided not to pursue the house purchase (the whole idea began to overwhelm us), but I often think about the many old houses that don’t get remodeled that do have lead content.
How many children live in those old houses without the remodeling? How many poor children live in poor old rundown houses?
The question is why are we not looking at the issue of lead poisoning when it comes to low test scores? Why is this issue continually buried and never highlighted in the mainstream media? It is mostly a problem of the poor but it can affect any child.
CLEAR Corps: Protecting the Potential of Children (CC) addresses the serious issue of harmful effects of high blood levels of lead in children and the relationship to student achievement. They also look at other health related issues concerning young children.
As far as the lead issue, CC claims “Current state and federal policies require blood lead testing for children on Medicaid; however, compliance with this requirement continues to be an issue. Many uninsured and commercially insured children are equally at risk for lead poisoning and thousands of them go untested each year.” They list barriers involved with testing, and they suggest Mobile Community Lead Screening that take testing to the community.
Several years ago Michael T. Martin wrote “A Strange Ignorance: The Role of Lead Poisoning in Failing Schools.” I can no longer find Michael’s outstanding report on the Arizona School Board Association’s website. Nor can I reach Michael. If anyone finds the report online please let me know and I will provide the link. In the meantime some of the information he provided in the past can be found here and on Susan Ohanian’s site here.
Martin’s lead concerns for one school district in particular, were questioned by Jay P. Greene, University of Arkansas’s poly sci. major turned education expert. Greene is a big education reformer and a fond supporter of anything having to do with tests and privatization.
Here are at least two studies that have found a connection with high Blood Lead Levels (BLL) and school problems.
In 2009, Detroit’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion and Detroit Public Schools were involved in a study that found more students with higher lead levels were in special education and also dropped out of school more often. BLLs could also put students behind on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) achievement testing.
The University of Michigan reported “Students with blood levels of 2-5 micrograms/decileter (ug/dl), a level currently not deemed dangerous, had a 33% higher likelihood of a poor MEAP performance. Students whose BLLs were over 5 ug/dl as children had a 50% higher likelihood of doing poorly on the MEAP. Currently, the federal government deems levels of 10 ug/dl and above to be dangerous, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a level of 5 ug/dl should be the poisoning threshold.”
Another study by Duke and North Carolina Central University, examined 35,000 children and also indicated children below age seven are still vulnerable to even small amounts of ingested lead. “Exposure to lead in early childhood significantly contributes to lower performances on end-of-grade (EOG) reading tests among minority and low-income children, who historically are at higher risk for lead exposure….”
Here is an 2014 update about lead poisoning and children in North Carolina and housing.
Mothers who receive inadequate prenatal care also risk having children who later exhibit high BLLs.
Why has the lead issue been pushed aside in the discussion of children and their health and school achievement?
In my last correspondence with Michael, he informed me that the CDC was in the process of shutting down the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in August of 2012. The memo he’d received stated that no longer would there be a national push for lead poisoning surveillance or blood lab oversight, monitoring or data analysis. Staff would be reassigned, or those in a vital staff capacity would just “go away.”
Lead poisoning is still an issue and parents and children should be helped with prevention and information. High BLL is also one of many variables that should be considered when a child tests poorly in school.
It is especially frustrating when high stakes tests are used to fail students, fire teachers, and close schools without considering a wide variety of outside variables, such as lead poisoning.
It is still, after all these years, as Michel T. Martin once told us
“a very strange ignorance….”