• child and adolescent health;
  • coordinated school health programs;
  • academic achievement;
  • achievement gap;
  • socioeconomic factors;
  • school reform

OBJECTIVE: To discuss implications for educational policy and practice relevant to closing the achievement gap based on the literature review and synthesis presented in 7 articles of the October 2011 special issue of the Journal of School Health.

METHODS: Implications for closing the achievement gap are drawn from analyses of current literature.

RESULTS: During the past several decades, school reform efforts to close the achievement gap have focused on various strategies, yielding very limited progress. Educationally relevant health disparities influence students' motivation and ability to learn, but reducing these disparities has been largely overlooked as an element of an overall strategy for closing the achievement gap. If these health problems are not addressed, the educational benefits of other school reform efforts will be jeopardized.

CONCLUSIONS: Healthier students are better learners. School health programs and services that are evidence based, strategically planned to influence academic achievement, and effectively coordinated warrant validation as a cohesive school improvement initiative for closing the achievement gap. National, state, and local responsibilities for supporting school health are outlined, including shared strategies; leadership from the U.S. Department of Education; policy development; guidance, technical assistance, and professional development; accountability and data and software systems; and a research agenda. To date, the U.S. Department of Education has not provided leadership for integrating evidence-based, strategically planned, and effectively coordinated school health programs and services into the fundamental mission of schools. Now is an opportune time for change.