There’s a recent study that examines the effect of pollution on educational performance in Michigan. Basically, the authors found that test scores were significantly lower for the two ‘most polluted’ quintiles of schools (i.e., the worst forty percent), even after controlling for income, school absence, school location, and other factors.
But there’s something else obvious that jumps out at you. In the appendix, tables 2 and 3 examine the effects of a bunch of different variables on math and English NAEP scores (the NAEP is widely considered to be the gold standard for testing student achievement).
Now, what could that possibly be?
The effect of the percentage of low-income students in a school on student achievement is greater than any other effect. Full stop. The second most important variable? Attendance (which is much weaker).
That’s not to say that pollution doesn’t matter–it does. And when building new schools, we should site them in unpolluted areas. But poverty is the dominant effect here.
Just something to keep in mind.
Cited article: Mohai, P., B.-S, Kweon, S. Lee, & K. Ard. 2011. Air Pollution Around Schools Is Linked To Poorer Student Health And Academic Performance. Health Aff May 2011, doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0077