Giving Compass' Take:

• New research indicates that cities can take straightforward steps to help children who have already been exposed to lead recover from the damage.

• How can philanthropy help to further research in this area? What steps can philanthropists take to help cities implement these recommendations? 

• Learn about a lead screening program for students in Flint, MI.

The effects of lead on children are far-reaching: it can cause both health problems and challenges in school, driving test scores down and suspension rates up.

Now, a new study says there’s a lot that can be done about it — even for kids who have already been exposed to the chemical, which was common in paint until the late 1970s. Straightforward efforts, like making sure kids get nutritional help and aren’t exposed to any more lead, can boost student learning and cause substantial decreases in suspensions, absences, and crime rates.

The research underscores how factors outside schools’ control can profoundly influence academic outcomes.

The gains from the program seemed to get bigger over time as students progressed through school.

The peer-reviewed research focuses on Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1990s, where young children who were found to have high levels of lead in their blood were given a battery of treatments, depending on the severity of their case. They included making sure someone was coordinating efforts to reduce students’ lead exposure and monitor their health, providing environmental and nutritional information, and a doctor’s evaluation.

Getting that help seemed to moderately increase test scores in both elementary and middle school grades. Other effects were even more dramatic: Treated students were suspended six fewer days between sixth and 10th grades, and they were absent 10 fewer days.

The students who got the treatment were also much less likely to be cited for committing a crime in school. The chances of being arrested for a violent crime as a teenager fell from about 12 percent to nearly 4 percent.

Read the full article about minimizing the effects of lead on children by Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat.