Corrected: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the author of this report. The author is David C. Berliner.
A new report makes a case for paying more attention to the critical role that out-of-school factors—such as inadequate health care, food insecurity, or environmental pollutants—have on children’s school success.
“Inputs to schools matter,” writes the report’s author, David C. Berliner, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. “As wonderful as some teachers and schools are, most cannot eliminate inequalities that have their roots outside their doors.”
Scheduled to be published jointly on March 9 by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and ASU’s Education Policy Research Unit, the report echoes a call made last year by a separate group of researchers and former federal officials. In advertisements in national newspapers, the ad hoc coalition advocated a “broader, bolder approach to education” than the narrow emphasis on student achievement embodied in efforts such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act, (“2 New Coalitions Seek Influence on Campaigns,” June 18, 2008).
In his 54-page brief, Mr. Berliner relates research evidence showing how seven out-of-school factors influence students’ academic success and lead to inequalities among children: prenatal care; health care; food insecurity; environmental pollutants; family stress; neighborhood characteristics; and extended learning opportunities, such as preschool or summer programs.
To tackle those issues, the report offers a laundry list of recommendations for policymakers. They include reducing the rate of low-birthweight children born to African-American mothers and reducing drug and alcohol abuse, pollutant levels in cities, and rates of student mobility and absenteeism in schools. The report also calls on the nation to provide high-quality preschools for all children, summer programs for disadvantaged children, and universal, free medical care.
In the long-run, the payoff for taking successful action on those steps could be substantial, the report contends.
“Economists already suggest that the black-white achievement gap can be reduced by 25 percent just by reducing residential mobility and improving the availability of health care for black children and of mental-health services for their caregivers,” Mr. Berliner writes.
That’s a “big effect,” he said, for tackling just three of the out-of-school factors that he outlines.
A version of this article appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of Education Week