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“Expanding access to medical care and providing disease management support are strategies that will help to improve educational performance.”

A new report from the California Dropout Research Project (CDRP) describes the connections between health and high school dropouts and examines several aspects of how health affects dropouts. The report, The Connection Between Health and High School Dropout, notes that children with poor health will likely have difficulty learning throughout their school careers, culminating for many into failure to graduate from high school. After their educational career is over, students who fail to graduate from high school are at an even higher risk for future health problems throughout adulthood.

“Expanding access to medical care and providing disease management support are strategies that will help to improve educational performance,” said Russell Rumberger, director of the CDRP. “The report underscores the need for health care reform and demonstrates how it can help address America’s dropout crisis.”

The report highlights three distinct pathways in which education and health are connected—childhood physical illness, childhood mental health problems, and adolescent risk behaviors. According to the report, many childhood physical illnesses such as Asthma and Type 1 Diabetes are already present when children first enter school. However, if managed properly with medical treatments, there is no medical reason for any of these conditions to have negative educational effects, the report notes. Strategies that expand access to medical care and provide support for disease management in and out of school such as health clinics are most likely to improve the educational performance of students with these illnesses.

According to the report, childhood mental health problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are among the most common health conditions and affect an estimated one of every five school-aged children and adolescents. Complicating the problem is the fact that as many as 80 percent of children with mental health problems are likely to be undiagnosed and untreated. The report lists early identification and support as important strategies to limit the impact on a child’s education. By avoiding or reducing academic deficits in the early grades, interventions may reduce deficits in academic achievement later on, thereby improving students’ chances of graduating,” the report reads.

The report also examines adolescent risk behaviors such as substance abuse and unprotected sex. It notes that the connection between adolescent risk behaviors and educational problems is in the reverse direction, from education to behavior. “Students who receive low grades or test scores are more likely than other students to initiate risky behaviors,” the report reads. “Substance use and early sexual behavior may thus be indicators that a student is already on a hazardous educational trajectory, rather than contributory causes of educational failure.” The report suggests that interventions targeted at these behaviors could improve educational outcomes. As an example, it offers an intervention that targets adolescent smokers by pairing smoking cessation treatment with academic support.

The complete report is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.