Flint water crisis: U-M study examines effects on academic outcomes

May 19, 2022

Contact:
Daniel Rivkin, rivkind@umich.edu
Jeff Karoub, jkaroub@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—Math achievement for school-age children in Flint decreased and the proportion of children with special needs increased as a result of the Michigan city’s water crisis during 2014-16, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Those are the main conclusions from research that for the first time examined data concerning the effects of the lead-in-water crisis on the academic outcomes of school-age children.

Still, there was little difference in the academic outcomes of school-age children living in homes with lead pipes compared to those in homes with copper pipes, suggesting that community crises may have effects on health and well-being beyond those tied directly to exposure to lead in the water supply.

Authors of the report matched student-level longitudinal data from the Michigan Department of Education, via the Michigan Education Data Center, and data from household-level service line inspections conducted by Flint’s Fast Action and Sustainability Program.

The Michigan Education Data Center, managed by the Education Policy Initiative at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy, is a secure data clearinghouse that helps researchers use the state of Michigan’s education data to answer critical questions that improve outcomes for students.

Report authors Brian Jacob and Samuel Owusu of U-M’s Education Policy Initiative, Sam Trejo of Stanford University and Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado of the University of Texas said “the findings provide some insight into the ways in which experiencing a community crisis profoundly affected the educational trajectory of Flint children.”

“These results have salient implications for education in communities that undergo major crises,” said Jacob, co-director of the Youth Policy Lab, faculty associate at the Survey Research Center, and professor of public policy, economics and education. “Beyond the health implications of the lead in the water, the society in Flint was shaken, and that sense of peril may have created the conditions for the learning challenges we chronicle.”

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