The Rev. John Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and now a professor and administrator at Chicago Theological Seminary, blogged last week about a Chicago Tribune report on alarming lead poisoning of children in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods due to reduced public investment in programs to test children for lead poisoning and in abatement programs.
Rev. Thomas writes: “For public school administrators and so called education ‘reformers’ who have fallen in love with testing and metrics… here’s some data that ought to be of urgent interest. One: Lead poisoning lowers I.Q. and is associated with lower standardized school test scores, increased rates of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and increased anti-social behavior. Two: Lead poisoning among children remains a problem for many of our nation’s children. Three: Lead poisoning is concentrated in neighborhoods afflicted with high poverty rates while in more affluent neighborhoods lead poisoning is now almost non-existent. And Four: While investments in school testing have grown over the last two decades, federal, state, and local money for lead testing and abatement among the most at-risk families and neighborhoods has plummeted.”
According to Rev. Thomas, while from 2005 to 2010 Chicago received federal funding of $1.2 million per year for programs to test for and prevent lead poisoning among children, last year federal funding for these programs dropped to $347,000, enough for only eleven inspectors and three nurses. Today, “Less than half of the children under six in Chicago are tested for lead poisoning.” Cuts are due to the merging by the Obama administration of lead poisoning and asthma prevention programs, followed by Congressional cuts for such programs through the Centers for Disease Control by 94%.
“Untested children with high levels of lead,” writes Rev. Thomas, “arrive at school with diminished I.Q.s, increased behavioral problems, and a statistically significant propensity to fail standardized tests. The schools trying to educate these children, as a result, have lower test scores and are subject to punishments of various kinds, including draconian turn around and closure processes. Closed schools further erode the quality of already distressed neighborhoods… Children from these neighborhoods with high levels of lead poisoning are increasingly concentrated in fewer schools, depressing their test scores, and the cycle continues.”
Rev. Thomas asks the moral question: “What kind of society subjects its children to incessant school testing, with financial consequences for schools if they do not administer the tests, while at the same time neglecting to test those same children for lead poisoning that consigns them to failure on the tests that will determine much about their own educational outcomes?”
I urge you to read Rev. Thomas’s column.