Lead exposure and academic achievement: evidence from childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts
- 778 Downloads
Though the adverse consequences of lead exposure in children have been well known for over a century, the recent Flint water crisis has drawn renewed attention to the impacts of lead exposure on human health and development. This study considers connections to educational outcomes, asking whether population-level lead exposure in early childhood influences later academic achievement and racial achievement gaps. It assesses the effectiveness of recent local- and state-level lead hazard control programs in mitigating exposure and uses this source of exogenous variation in early childhood exposure across birth cohorts to draw inferences about the long-term effects of lead on mean student test scores. Our findings indicate that lead hazard control grants reduced lead poisoning incidents by over 70% of the baseline prevalence. And each one percentage point reduction in lead poisoning in early childhood translated to a growth of 0.04 standard deviations in student math test scores and 0.08 standard deviations in student reading scores. This same reduction in lead poisoning narrowed both the white-Hispanic math achievement gap and white-Hispanic reading achievement gap by 0.06 standard deviations, implying important downstream consequences for economic inequality.
KeywordsLead exposure Population intervention Early childhood health Economics of education Achievement gap
JEL ClassificationI18 I24 J1
The authors are grateful for the support from the Russell Sage Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and recommendations, as well as Sean Reardon, Steven Alvarado, participants at the RSF Workshop on Monitoring Educational Opportunity, and participants at the 2017 AEFP session on Special Education, Special Needs, and Health.
This study was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and William T. Grant Foundation (Award #83-17-05). It was also supported by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Aizer A, Currie J, Simon P, Vivier P (2016) Do low levels of blood lead reduce children’s future test scores? NBER Working Paper No. 22558Google Scholar
- Anderson TW (1951) Estimating linear restrictions on regression coefficients for multivariate normal distributions. Ann Math Stat 20(3):46–63Google Scholar
- Burdick-Will J, Ludwig J, Raudenbush SW, Sampson R, Sanbonmatsu L, Sharkey P (2011) Converging evidence for neighborhood effects on children't test scores: An experimental, quasi-experimental, and observational comparison. In Duncan GJ, Murnane RJ (eds) Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children's life chances, Russell Sage Foundation, pp 255–276.Google Scholar
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016) Blood lead levels in children. Accessed 8 March 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/lead_levels_in_children_fact_sheet.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017) National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. Accessed February 9, 2017. Available at: https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showHome.action
- Dickman J (2017) Children at risk: gaps in state lead screening policies. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (1995) Report on The National Survey of Lead-Based Paint in Housing. Accessed 8 March 2017. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/r95-003.pdf
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2017) Protect your family from exposures to lead. Accessed 8 March 2017. https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead
- Fryer RG, Levitt SD (2004) Falling behind: new evidence on the Black-White achievement gap. J Educ Next 4(4):64–71Google Scholar
- Ho AD, Reardon SF (2012) Estimating achievement gaps from test scores reported in ordinal "proficiency" categories. J Educ Behav Stat 37(4):489–517.Google Scholar
- Kennedy C, Lordo R, Sucosky MS, Boehm R, Brown MJ (2016) Evaluating the effectiveness of state specific lead-based paint hazard risk reduction laws in preventing recurring incidences of lead poisoning in children. Int J Hyg Environ Health 219(1):110–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2015.09.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kruse J (2015) Healthy housing and lead hazard control. National Low Income Housing Coalition. Accessed 8 March 2017. http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/Sec5.03_Healthy-Homes_2015.pdf
- Lanphear BP, Hornung R, Khoury J, Yolton K, Baghurst P, Bellinger DC, Canfield RL, Dietrich KN, Bornschein R, Greene T, Rothenberg SJ, Needleman HL, Schnaas L, Wasserman G, Graziano J, Roberts R (2005) Low-level environmental lead exposure and children’s intellectual function: an international pooled analysis. Environ Health Perspect 113(7):894–899CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Michigan Civil Rights Commission (2017) The Flint water crisis: systematic racism through the lens of Flint. Report of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Accessed 8 March 2017. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdcr/MDCR_Flint_Water_Crisis_Report_552190_7.pdf
- Rau T, Reyes L, Urzua S (2013) The long-term effects of early lead exposure: evidence from a case of environmental negligence. NBER Working Paper No. 18915Google Scholar
- Reardon SF, Robinson JP, Weathers ES (2014) Patterns and trends in racial/ethnic and socioeconomic academic achievement gaps. In Ladd HF, Goertz ME (eds) Handbook of research in education finance and policy, (2nd edn), Routledge, pp 491–509Google Scholar
- Reardon SF, Kalogrides D, Ho A (2017) Linking U.S. school district test score distributions to a common scale. https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/wp16-09-v201706.pdf
- Shores K, Steinberg MP (2017) The impact of the great recession on student achievement: evidence from population data. CEPA Working Paper No. 17-09Google Scholar
- Stock JH, Yogo M (2002) Testing for weak instruments in linear IV regression. NBER Working Paper No. 284Google Scholar
- U.S. Census Bureau (2012) The 2006–2010 ACS 5-year selected population tables. Table B25036: tenure by year structure built. Accessed 27 Oct 2016Google Scholar
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (2011) American healthy homes survey: lead and arsenic findings. Accessed 8 March 2017. https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=AHHS_Report.pdf
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (2015) Lead-based paint hazard control (LBPHC) grant program. FR-5900-N-12. Available at: https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=2015lbphcnofa.pdf
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (2016) Archived funding announcements. Accessed 1 Jan 2017. Available at: https://archives.hud.gov/funding/index.cfm