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Health, Education, Poverty and New Jersey's "Apartheid Schools"

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, November 14, 2013
Good health and educational achievement are closely entwined, poverty erodes both, and researchers are discovering more about the connections. Ruth E. Perry, MD, who heads the Trenton Health Team, underscores an observation of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who says "Our Zip code may be more important to our health than our genetic code." Dr. Perry also cites reports on the overarching impact of health disparities and two recent studies that say nearly 100,000 minority New Jersey children live in isolated poverty and attend schools more segregated than any in the Deep South.

In a column for the Newark Star Ledger, Dr. Perry, a physician who comes from a family of educators, notes some of the research linking poverty, health and education. She quotes James Heckman, a University of Chicago professor and Nobel Laureate in Economics: "Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less likely to succeed in school or society but are also much less likely to be healthy adults." In a New York Times Column Heckman writes that whether a person finishes college is largely the result of what has happened before kindergarten, and kids who lose the lottery at birth sometimes never get a chance to catch up. As an example of the value of counteracting early disadvantage, he describes the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which a group of children received cognitive and social stimulation from infancy through age five while their parents got skills training. The children also got regular check ups and health care. Their progress was monitored at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30, Heckman writes, and the program showed lasting impact on IQ scores; in addition, those treated had higher educational attainment and more skilled employment than peers in control groups.

But most dramatic, Heckman writes, is the life-long health impact: 30 years later adults who were in the program now have lower blood pressure, less abdominal fat, and lower likelihood of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease than untreated peers. Read his column here.

The Trenton Health Team (THT) is a partnership made up of the city’s two hospitals, a health clinic, the city of Trenton, the N.J. Department of Health and Human Services and many community organizations. THT recently completed a community health needs assessment that uncovered discouraging educational statistics. In Trenton’s six Zip codes, the high school graduation rate ranges from 53 percent to 74 percent, and college graduation rates range from a dismal 6 percent to 17 percent.

Segregation in New Jersey schools is analyzed in studies by Paul Trachtenberg at the Rutgers Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP) and Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. The reports say nearly half of the black and Hispanic students in 2010-2011 were enrolled in schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students were white. The IELP report describes 191 N.J. schools in which one percent or fewer of the students are non-minority as "apartheid schools." Most of those are in Newark, Camden, Paterson and Jersey City. The report says 26 percent of black student and 13 percent of Latino students attend apartheid schools, and across the U.S. only Detroit and Chicago have more extreme school segregation. Trenton schools, where the poverty level is 70 percent and nearly 96 percent of the students are black and Hispanic, are among schools described as "intensely segregated." That's a category in which 90 percent of more of the enrollment is minority. Nearly 30 percent of Latino students and 22 percent of black students in N.J. attend intensely segregated schools. The landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954 bans segregation by law, but not segregation by circumstance. The IELP report says while litigation has successfully brought more money to poor urban districts, "New Jersey's uniquely strong state law regarding racial balance in the schools has not been seriously implemented for the past 40 years." The report emphasizes half a century of research has documented diminished opportunities and less fortunate outcomes for kids in highly segregated schools where students come from impoverished families.

Dr. Perry says researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins found more than 30 percent of direct medical costs of minority populations in the US results from health inequities-an amount that totaled $230 billion from 2003-2006. Indirect costs of those disparities, which include lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism, and premature death over the same period, brings the total to $1.24 trillion. "Clearly," Dr. Perry writes, "reducing education and health disparities is in our best interest both for social and economic reasons." Read Dr. Perry's column here and the Rutgers IELP report here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  education  healthcare 

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