MADISON, Wis. Children who are exposed to lead are nearly three times more likely to be suspended from school by the 4th grade than children who are not exposed, according to a new University of Wisconsin-Madison study funded jointly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Wisconsin Partnership Program Education and Research Committee.
"Students who are suspended from school are at greater risk of dropping out, twice as likely to use tobacco, and more likely to engage in violent behavior later in life," says first author Michael Amato, a doctoral candidate in psychology and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. "Our study found that children exposed to lead were more than twice as likely to be suspended in the 4th grade, which means that lead may be more responsible for school discipline problems than many people realize."
Nationally, African-American students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students. The same discipline gap was found in the Wisconsin study, but 23 percent of the disparity was explained by differences in rates of lead exposure. Many previous studies have documented disparities in school discipline, but few have specified the underlying factors.
"We knew that lead exposure decreases children's abilities to control their attention and behavior, but we were still surprised that exposed children were so much more likely to be suspended," said Sheryl Magzamen, a public health researcher who also worked on the UW-Madison study. Magzamen is now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma.
Researchers cross-referenced medical data of nearly 4,000 children exposed to lead with 4th grade disciplinary records in the Milwaukee school district. They found that children who had been exposed to lead were nearly three times more likely to be suspended in the fourth grade than children who had not been exposed, even after controlling for income, race/ethnicity,
|Contact: Mike Amato|
University of Wisconsin-Madison