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High lead levels Hurt Learning for Detroit Public School Kids


More than half of the students tested in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have a history of lead poisoning, which affects brain function for life, according to data compiled by city health and education officials.  The data also show, for the first time in Detroit, a link between higher lead levels and poor academic performance. About 60% of DPS students who performed below their grade level on 2008 standardized tests had elevated lead levels.

The research -- the result of an unusual collaboration between the city's Department of Health & Wellness Promotion and DPS -- also reveals that children receiving special education were more likely to have lead poisoning.

"For years, we've blamed the schools and the teachers for kids failing," said Brenda Gelman-Berkowitz, a school social worker for the district. These new findings, she said, show the answer may be more complicated. "We haven't seen this connection with lead before. But I see evidence of it everywhere."

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Research shows
that several factors, beyond school, affect student learning: Low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; Inadequate medical, dental, and vision care; Food insecurity; Environmental pollutants; Family relations and family stress; and Neighborhood characteristics. (Source: Berliner, David C. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.)

Also, Paul E. Barton's publication, Parsing the Achievement Gap, highlights research about how lead poisoning affects the educational experiences associated with continual development and school achievement. He notes that "Many children who are behind in school have been affected by lead, and most of them will never have been screened and diagnosed."

High lead levels Hurt Learning for Detroit Public School Kids Full of hope: Jeanine Cureton, 26, and Reginald Cureton, 30, gather May 7 with their children, from left, Shekinah, 7 months; Maurice, 7; Reggie, 9; Moriah, 2, and Novea, 5, in their Detroit backyard.
Photo by: Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press
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