In “The Impact of Toxins on the Brain,” Bruce Lanphear (2015) examines the impact of toxins on developing brains within a scientific context and argues undue harm caused by toxicity constitutes a public health issue. In “Lead Policy and Academic Performance: Insights from Massachusetts,” Jessica Wolpaw Reyes (2015) assesses the effects of toxins on developing brains within a school context and argues the cost of lead-poisoning in student outcomes amounts to educational disparities among children. Using childhood lead levels screened and monitored by the Massachusetts Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP), Reyes (2016) built a dataset for all children born between 1991 and 2000 in Massachusetts who were enrolled in public elementary schools between the years 2000 and 2009.
Both Lanphear (2015) and Reyes (2015) assert young developing brains are especially susceptible to lead exposure. Lead is a particularly dangerous toxin because children absorb lead more efficiently at their sensitive stage of development (Reyes, 2015). In their separate surveys of scientific research on the subject, Lanphear (2015) and Reyes (2015) list the most prominent and serious consequences of lead exposure:
- Reduced IQ (Lanphear, 2015, p. 214 & Reyes, 2015, p. 79)
- Increase likelihood of developing learning disabilities (Reyes, 2015, p. 79)
- Neurodevelopmental deficits (Reyes, 2015, p. 79)
- Increase of certain ADHD-related behaviors: such as impulsivity, inattention, and aggression (Lanphear, 2015, p. 219 & Reyes, 2015, p. 79)
- Higher rates of antisocial behavior and related to higher rates of criminal delinquency (Lanphear, 2015, p. 221)
Reyes (2015) investigated whether increased childhood lead levels from the 1990s were linked to test scores in the 2000s in the state of Massachusetts. She concluded that early childhood lead levels are associated with lower test scores for both English and Math-based exams (p. 90). Although standardized exams are not always the best way to measure student success in the classroom, these aggregate results substantiate earlier research on the potential classroom consequences. Different real-world outcomes of lead-poisoning impact how students manage their behavior in the classroom and their learning and retention of new information.
What Comes Next
Lanphear (2015) does not propose any intervention strategies employable in classrooms for children already exposed to lead. However, he emphasizes the importance of macro-level prevention strategies at the state and federal level (p. 223). Reyes (2016) echoes the need for state and nation wide policy to address increased lead-levels in children and advocates for better communication between state education departments and state health departments. However, she includes classroom and community interventions usable in schools to combat the effects of lead on childhood learning. Early intervention strategies that acknowledge and meet children’s new health and developmental needs are essential (p. 101). Without recognizing that the problem will be entering the classroom and impacting student learning, teachers and school administrators will be ill-equipped to methodically alter classroom environments to better fit children’s’ new needs.