September 26, 2012
When policymakers introduce another initiative for education reform, the press to implement the new initiative often draws attention away from other essential facets involved in improving and transforming schools. Currently, this is happening with the Common Core State Standards movement.
Efforts to revamp schools cannot afford to marginalize any primary and essential facet of what must take place at schools every day. As those who have followed the work of the Center for Mental Health in Schools know, we are moving efforts to improve schools from a two to a three component framework.
The prevailing two component framework mainly stresses (1) instruction (including curriculum and teaching) and (2) governance and management; the third primary and essential component clarifies the need for a direct focus on (3) addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students. Our policy analyses have documented that this third facet of education transformation is fully marginalized in school improvement policy and planning.
The current movement for Common Core State Standards can either further marginalize efforts to address barriers to learning and teaching or can be the venue for fully integrating a unified and comprehensive system of learning supports into schools.
To this end, we have established an initiative for Common Core Standards for Learning Supports. Input from professionals across the country has helped generate a proposed set of Common Core State Standards for Learning Supports. The aim is to address the many factors interfering with so many students having an equal opportunity to succeed at school and beyond. Such a component coalesces and systematizes what is common in all student and learning supports and provides a base upon which the needs of specific student subgroups, the contributions of various professional specialties and specific programs, and the unique considerations of localities can be built.
In this respect, it is noteworthy that the Common Core State Standards include a brief “application to students with disabilities.” Development of a unified and comprehensive learning supports component at every school is needed to ensure equity of opportunity for the many others who, at some time or another, bring problems with them that affect their learning and often interfere with the teacher’s efforts to teach. This is particularly so in geographic areas where a large proportion of students experience the restricted opportunities associated with poverty and low income, difficult and diverse family circumstances, high rates of mobility, lack of English language skills, violent neighborhoods, problems related to substance abuse, inadequate health care, and lack of enrichment opportunities. Moreover, problems are exacerbated as youngsters internalize the frustrations of confronting barriers and the debilitating effects of performing poorly at school. In some locales, the reality often is that over 50% of students are not succeeding. And, in most schools in these locales, teachers are poorly supported in addressing the problems in a potent manner.
Timing for all this is critical. Widespread endorsement of Common Core Standards for Learning Supports may offer the best chance to influence reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (commonly referred to as ESEA or the No Child Left Behind Act) in ways that are needed to transform schools so that many more students can experience equity of opportunity for success at school. Our objectives with respect to ESEA are to (1) generate a policy shift to a three component framework for transforming schools, (2) unify current fragmented student and learning supports into a comprehensive system of learning supports, (3) rework operational infrastructure at all levels of school agency to support development of the system, and (4) ensure support for the essential systemic changes and for sustainability.
We invite all who are concerned about equity of opportunity to join us in ensuring schools are supported in developing a unified and comprehensive system to address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students.
At this time, we are seeking further refinements and indications of endorsement. Please leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
Howard S. Adelman, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and he and Linda Taylor, Ph.D. are co-directors of the School Mental Health Project and its national Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA. The two have worked together for more than 30 years with a constant focus on improving how schools and communities address a wide range of psychosocial and educational problems experienced by children and adolescents.