Report addressing the connection between student health and academic achievement unveiled

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In an effort to ensure that student health plays a central role in California’s education reform agenda, the state’s largest private health foundation today unveiled the first report produced from a multi-year project addressing the connection between student health and academic achievement. The California Education Supports Project, an initiative funded jointly by The California Endowment, the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, was introduced at a legislative forum hosted by the California Assembly Select Committee on Schools and Community.

"Student health must be on California's education reform agenda if we ever expect to address the achievement gap and dropout rate," said Assemblymember Tom Torlakson, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee, to an audience of students, teachers and community members.

The project will explore the complex connection between health and education with the goal of developing policy recommendations that foster healthy and supportive school and community environments. To achieve this goal, the consortium will work with administration officials, state legislators and key members of the education community to identify near- and long-term solutions to simultaneously promote student health and learning.

"For too long California has addressed health and education as separate issues often resulting in conflicting policies that fail to take into account their interdependence," said Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO of The California Endowment. “Our goal with the California Education Supports Project is to identify actionable strategies to improve the way that health is addressed in our schools and in our communities.”

The project represents the type of integrated policy and systems change investments that The Endowment will make as it embarks on its new, 10-year strategic direction: Building Healthy Communities, the goal of which is to support the development of communities in which kids and youth are healthy, safe and ready to learn.

“An education agenda that focuses exclusively on curriculum-based reform fails to consider the multitude of health factors that contribute to a student’s ability to focus and engage in learning,” said Dr. Gregory Austin, Director of WestEd Health and Human Development Program. “Even the best teacher, armed with the most interesting curriculum cannot reach a student who is absent due to asthma, distracted by a toothache or preoccupied with fears of violence.”

Over the next several months, the Educational Supports Project will commission a series of issue-specific papers to explore the impact of these various health factors on academic achievement. The aim of which is to develop a framework for injecting health—physical health, mental health and developmental health—into the state’s education reform dialogue. Details on the project’s scope are outlined in The Critical Connection Between Health and Academic Achievement: How Schools and Policymakers Can Achieve a Positive Impact, a brief developed jointly by WestEd and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at The University of California, San Francisco.

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