U Michigan To Explore Link Between Pollution and K-12 Performance

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Is there a link between air pollution and student performance in K-12 schools? That's what University of Michigan researchers said they hope to discover as they embark on a three-year research project to determine correlations between air quality and performance benchmarks like absenteeism, test scores, and dropout rates.

The researchers, operating out of U Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), said that adequate information about the links between pollution and student performance does not exist at present, despite children's vulnerability to pollution.

Researchers will be using census data, air quality data, and information supplied by Detroit Public Schools to look for links between student performance and the environment. The study will cover 194 schools and more than 100,000 students enrolled in the 2007-08 school year. They will also model data from the 837 other public schools districts in Michigan to create a more complete picture of the links between pollution and student performance.

"Currently, information about the effects of air toxics on Michigan's school-aged population is largely anecdotal," said Paul Mohai, an SNRE professor and the project's lead researcher, in announcing the new study. "We do not know whether schools in the state are located in areas that are more--or less--polluted than their surrounding communities. It is also uncertain which schools are most at risk from air-toxics exposure and whether such exposures are related to health outcomes, absenteeism, school performance and dropout rates."

The researchers also said they'll investigate whether air quality should be a factor in determining where schools should be built. The research is being funded by the Kresge Foundation to the tune of $485,000. The study will begin this summer.

"Potentially," according to the researchers, "the findings could be used to re-evaluate state and local policies that lead to the siting of new schools in areas with already high concentrations of pollution. At a minimum, the data-crunching and analysis will help identify schools requiring further investigation."

"It's safe to say this is a study that will look for associations," said Byoung-Suk Kweon, a research investigator and adjunct assistant professor at SNRE. "We're not saying it's a core association, but it's a question worth exploring."

The study will also explore potential social issues associated with income and ethnicity and relation to air toxicity.

"Since there has been much recent attention and interest on issues of environmental injustice in Michigan and nationally, we also intend to examine racial and socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of air toxics risk in Michigan and Detroit and how such disparities may be linked to racial and socioeconomic disparities in outcomes for the school-aged population," Mohai said.

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About the author:David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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