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Thursday Complexity Post
November 14, 2013  

Health, Education, Poverty and New Jersey's "Apartheid Schools"  

Good health and educational achievement are closely entwined, poverty erodes both, and researchers are discovering more about the connections. Ruth E. Perry, MD, who heads the Trenton Health Team, underscores an observation of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who says "Our Zip code may be more important to our health than our genetic code." Dr. Perry also cites reports on the overarching impact of health disparities and two recent studies that say nearly 100,000 minority New Jersey children live in isolated poverty and attend schools more segregated than any in the Deep South.

In a column for the Newark Star Ledger, Dr. Perry, a physician who comes from a family of educators, notes some of the research linking poverty, health and education. She quotes James Heckman, a University of Chicago professor and Nobel Laureate in Economics: "Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less likely to succeed in school or society but are also much less likely to be healthy adults." In a New York Times Column Heckman writes that whether a person finishes college is largely the result of what has happened before kindergarten, and kids who lose the lottery at birth sometimes never get a chance to catch up. As an example of the value of counteracting early disadvantage, he describes the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which a group of children received cognitive and social stimulation from infancy through age five while their parents got skills training. The children also got regular check ups and health care. Their progress was monitored at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30, Heckman writes, and the program showed lasting impact on IQ scores; in addition, those treated had higher educational attainment and more skilled employment than peers in control groups. 


But most dramatic, Heckman writes, is the life-long health impact: 30 years later adults who were in the program now have lower blood pressure, less abdominal fat, and lower likelihood of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease than untreated peers. Read his column here.


The Trenton Health Team (THT) is a partnership made up of the city's two hospitals, a health clinic, the city of Trenton, the N.J. Department of Health and Human Services and many community organizations. THT recently completed a community health needs assessment that uncovered discouraging educational statistics. In Trenton's six Zip codes, the high school graduation rate ranges from 53 percent to 74 percent, and college graduation rates range from a dismal 6 percent to 17 percent.


Segregation in New Jersey schools is analyzed in studies by Paul Trachtenberg at the Rutgers Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP) and Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. The reports say nearly half of the black and Hispanic students in 2010-2011 were enrolled in schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students were white. The IELP report describes 191 N.J. schools in which one percent or fewer of the students are non-minority as "apartheid schools." Most of those are in Newark, Camden, Paterson and Jersey City. The report says 26 percent of black student and 13 percent of Latino students attend apartheid schools, and across the U.S. only Detroit and Chicago have more extreme school segregation. Trenton schools, where the poverty level is 70 percent and nearly 96 percent of the students are black and Hispanic, are among schools described as "intensely segregated." That's a category in which 90 percent or more of the enrollment is minority. Nearly 30 percent of Latino students and 22 percent of black students in N.J. attend intensely segregated schools. The landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954 bans segregation by law, but not segregation by circumstance. The IELP report says while litigation has brought more money to poor urban districts, "New Jersey's uniquely strong state law regarding racial balance in the schools has not been seriously implemented for the past 40 years." The report emphasizes that half a century of research has documented diminished opportunities and less fortunate outcomes for kids in highly segregated schools where students come from impoverished families.


Dr. Perry says researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins found more than 30 percent of direct medical costs of minority populations in the US results from health inequities-an amount that totaled $230 billion from 2003-2006. Indirect costs of those disparities, which include lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism, and premature death over the same period, brings the total to $1.24 trillion. "Clearly," Dr. Perry writes, "reducing education and health disparities is in our best interest both for social and economic reasons." Read Dr. Perry's column here and the Rutgers IELP report here.



Remember PlexusCalls!   



Healthcare PlexusCalls

Wednesday, November 20, 1-2 PM ET

Distrust, Race and Research: Beyond the Legacy of Tuskegee

Guests: Stephen Thomas    




Many of us may feel some trepidation about going to a hospital for care. For people of color, history also casts a long shadow. Discriminatory policies affected healthcare and health research, as well as more-familiar examples like drinking fountains and voting booths. Today, African Americans in Maryland are three times more likely to die in infancy, twice as likely to die from diabetes, and much less likely to get flu vaccines than whites.

Stephen Thomas 

The University of Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) is driving new efforts-in the state and beyond-through a $5.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The February 2013 grant, awarded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) enables the Center for Health Equity to conduct interventions designed to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension, infant mortality, obesity and vaccine preventable diseases. The Center is based in the university's School of Public Health and is leading multidisciplinary collaborative teams focused on understanding the root causes of racial and ethnic health disparities, designing innovative solutions that promote health equity, and creating models that could be used in communities across the country.

Stephen will join the call to share innovative community programs-imagine health screenings in neighborhood barber shops and dental care in a former basketball arena-and will talk about current and proposed research that is enabling the teams to find and better serve those who need healthcare. Read his complete bio


Friday, November 22, 1-2 PM ET

The Oscillating Narrative and Resilience in Children  

Guests: Robyn Fivush and Bruce Feiler    



We continually create, annotate and revise the narratives of our lives. Robyn Fivush and Bruce Feiler are preeminent thought leaders and writers who have deep insights on how the shape of our narratives influences us, our children and our communities.

Robyn Fivush, PhD, is Samuel Chandler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University and Director of the Family Narratives Lab, which is part of the university's Child Studies Center. Dr. Fivush has researched how family narratives are created, and how they help define who we are and how we interact with other people. Dr. Fivush received her Ph.D from the Graduate Center of The City University of New York in 1983 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Human Information Processing, University of California at San Diego. She joined the Emory faculty in 1984 where she is also a core faculty member of the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, associated faculty with the Department of Women's Studies and a Senior Fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Her research focuses on early memory with an emphasis on the social construction of autobiographical memory and the relations among memory, narrative, identity, trauma, and coping. She has published over 100 books, book chapters, and articles.


Bruce Feiler is one of America's most thoughtful, popular, and versatile voices on contemporary life. His latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families, is a bold playbook for families today. It collects best practices for modern-day parents from some of the country's most creative minds, including tops designers in Silicon Valley, elite peace negotiators, the creators of Modern Family, the Green Berets, and Robyn Fivush and her colleagues at Emory. The book was a Top 5 New York Times bestseller. He writes the "This Life" column about today's families for the Sunday New York Times and is the writer/presenter of the PBS series "Walking the Bible" and the forthcoming "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler." He is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including Walking the Bible, an account of his perilous 10,000 mile journey retracing the Five Books of Moses through the desert. He has devoted thought and research to the role of religion in contemporary life, and his engaging book Abraham describes his personal search for the shared ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. His book Where God Was Born describes his year-long trek visiting Biblical sites through the front lines of Iran, Iraq and Israel, inspiring an Atlanta Journal Constitution reviewer to call him a "real life Indiana Jones." America's Prophet, which describes the influence of Moses on American history, and Council of Dads were also best sellers. He is a native of Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Linda Rottenberg, and their twin daughters.

Audio from all PlexusCall series are available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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