The obesity epidemic is transforming children’s health care, and providers are increasingly alert to the long-range consequences of the condition. Among children, those who are obese or overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, early cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses later in life.

A paper published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Expert Reviews of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, written by NYU professors Leonardo Trasande and Brian Elbel, considers the range of research assessing the economic burden placed on health care systems by childhood obesity—the greatest predictor of obesity in adulthood, and the chronic and often fatal diseases associated with it. The article finds that “large investment through research and prevention are needed, and are likely to provide strong returns in cost savings. [These] would optimally emerge through a cooperative effort between private and government payers alike.”

Trasande and Elbel are both affiliated with the School of Medicine and its Departments of Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine, and with the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

“Health care delivery systems stand to gain quite substantially from efforts to prevent childhood obesity before it occurs,” the authors write. “Investment in research, not only to identify fruitful solutions, but also to track the economic impacts for health care delivery systems and identify the opportunities for reducing costs in the short and long term, are needed.”

Steinhardt Professor’s Research Cited in New York Teacher Quality Debate

After almost a year of back and forth, the New York State Education Department and state teachers unions finally came to an agreement in February over how to evaluate the state’s public school teachers—an issue that still plagues students, educators, and parents.

The recent agreement is a compromise that allows local districts to decide how they will use state test scores in teacher evaluations, as long as 20 percent of the evaluation is based on value added.

Sean Corcoran, assistant professor of educational economics in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, is the author of the recent study, “Can Teachers Be Evaluated by Their Students’ Test Scores? Should They Be? The Use of Value-Added Measures of Teacher Effectiveness in Policy and Practice.” The work has contributed significantly to this contentious debate and has been cited in nearly 15 local and national media outlets in the last month.

“Unlike other state systems that place disproportionate weight on test scores, this new system takes a more balanced approach, relying on multiple measures of teaching effectiveness,” says Corcoran. “It also provides substantial local flexibility, acknowledging that a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach cannot work in a diverse state like New York. It aims to treat educators like professionals who understand teaching and know their schools and communities best.”

According to Corcoran, the fierce battle over how much test results should account for a teacher’s job evaluation reflects a basic lack of understanding of the public’s ability to use test scores to infer teaching quality. He asserts that while appealing in the abstract, inferring the effects of a teacher from a student’s test score is challenging, and not at all straightforward.

“I do fear that overconfident legislators will seek to place even more emphasis on test scores in the future,” Corcoran says.

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