Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Load off the Teachers' Backs Coordinated School Health Programs, A

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Load off the Teachers' Backs Coordinated School Health Programs, A

Article excerpt

PRINCIPALS and teachers are straining every fiber to bring all their students up to the grade-level standards set by their districts or states. If they do not, they risk, in many places, less-than-glowing job evaluations, the humiliation of state takeovers of their schools, the denial of expected salary increases, involuntary transfers, or even the loss of their jobs. At the same time, front-line educators and their students are awash in a toxic sea of problems, especially in communities in which a high percentage of the children are poor, recent immigrants, unsupervised after school, lacking medical care, and exposed to mayhem in their neighborhoods.

In all kinds of communities, teachers' energies are sapped by having to attend to students who are upset, angry, depressed, or ill. When medical or psychological services are not forthcoming, teachers by default become crisis managers, fight mediators, grief counselors, and frustrated liaisons with distant and often impersonal human service bureaucracies and medical providers - at the expense of the quality of the lesson in progress.

For decades, teachers have complained vehemently about their lot, but the public has often seen their complaints as an attempt to shift blame onto society. And policy makers have pursued a relentless "no excuses" line when it comes to academic achievement. Now this attitude of resistance to teacher complaints is beginning to crumble.

Many who labor in the arena of public policy are facing the reality that 15 years of energetic school reform efforts have produced some modest improvements, but not the hoped-for results. Merely setting standards, using better tests, telling teachers to teach better, tightening certification requirements, or getting rid of principals or superintendents when test scores don't rise hasn't brought us to the promised land - or even to the edge of it. Many people now question the current orthodoxy that only academic outputs matter and that any discussion of inputs is a delaying tactic on the part of the educators. While there are no signs of any political retreat from the steely focus on academic outcomes, there is an awakening to the notion that education reform may require creative (meaning unfunded or underfunded) interventions that lower the barriers to learning and reduce risky behavior. First among those barriers are poor physical and mental health conditions that prevent students from showing up for school, paying attention in class, restraining their anger, quieting their self- destructive impulses, and refraining from dropping out.

The Poor Health

of American Children

The traditional diseases of childhood have nearly disappeared, thanks to great advances in medical research and the managerial brilliance of the public health apparatus in the United States. But new health problems have emerged with a vengeance. One child in four - fully 10 million - is at risk of failure in school because of social, emotional, and health handicaps.1

The "new morbidities," as they are called in the public health community, are the adverse consequences of poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, early sexual activity, drinking, drug abuse, violence, depression, and stress. The origins are psychological and social, but the consequences are medical, educational, and sometimes criminal: HIV/

AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, alcohol- related automobile accidents, addiction, injuries or deaths from stabbings or shootings, and suicide.

A quick rundown of the incidence of risky behaviors among young people gives a snapshot of the problems of students in grades 9 through 12. Consider the following items, taken, unless otherwise noted, from the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

* 73% of all deaths among youth and young adults (10 to 24 years of age) result from only four causes: motor vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide. …

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