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Finding Opportunities in the Policy Environment

There is a movement towards embracing the non-instructional student support and social-emotional development strategies of universal prevention approaches and away from the purely academic achievement policies of the last decades, as many education leaders recognize the positive impact these areas have on academic success. Many schools and districts are acknowledging the social and economic disadvantages that students bring to school, such as poverty and the trauma of community violence and toxic stress.[1]

With new knowledge about prevention and brain development and how skills are acquired, new themes are emerging in education and universal behavioral health promotion to address how schools can become better resources for improving outcomes for vulnerable populations.

Here are some issues that may be drawing public attention in your state and community. Demonstrating that the comprehensive child development or prevention approach you have identified can have a positive effect on these issues may help you advance your approach.

  • With high school dropout a concern of educators and policymakers, its correlation with out-of-school suspensions has become visible. Demographic disparities exist in the use of such suspensions and expulsions as a disciplinary measure. Devising proactive comprehensive approaches to school discipline practices to prevent suspensions and expulsions that disproportionately impact certain groups is an emerging education priority.[2]
  • Violence prevention and creating safer school environments have become education interests. Addressing school climate by decreasing the incidence of harassment, bullying, gang involvement, and substance abuse are federal grant priorities.[3]
  • Research in best practices in English Language Learner (ELL) programs and dual language instruction highlight the importance of cultural competence, professional development and family engagement, and a climate of safety and belonging. In the past decade, the percentage of Latino U.S. public school students has grown from 17 to 24%, while the percentage of white and black children has declined.[4]  Census Bureau projections indicate that by 2018, fewer than half of the children in the U.S. will be non-Hispanic White. While the majority of Latino children is American-born and speaks English, “it is the children of immigrants that are leading this change in our demographics and will be setting the course for the future of this country.”[5]
  • Social conditions for learning include the learning climate. In a research-based set of recommendations,[6]  the Consortium on Chicago School Research produced a comprehensive set of school practices and school and community conditions that promote improvement and identified these five supports as essential:
    • School leadership,
    • Professional capacity,
    • Parent-community ties,
    • Student-centered learning climate, and
    • Instructional guidance, in other words, building the social organization within schools and orchestrating initiatives across multiple domains
  • A growing movement around student-centered learning is building on cross-disciplinary possibilities.[7] Student-centered learning shifts the focus away from efforts to remedy individual deficits to those that strengthen schools in how they educate underserved students. Practitioners see a “key difference between disadvantaged students who succeed in school and those who do not: their emotional skills…Student-centered approaches pay particular attention to emotional development and motivation.” (Emphasis added.) Understanding that toxic stress can lead to learning problems, schools seek to shield students from such major toxic stressors as: poverty, abuse, bullying, and trauma.
  • Research has highlighted the central role of trauma in precipitating mental and substance use disorders and the linkage between trauma experiences and other chronic physical diseases.[8] Look at your state’s mental health plans for how they will address trauma in children and youth.

[1] Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, http://www.boldapproach.org/.
[2] http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf
[3] See U.S. Department of Education’s Project Prevent Grant Program http://www2.ed.gov/programs/projectprevent/2014-184m.pdf  and U.S. Department of Education’s School Climate Transformation Grant Program  http://www2.ed.gov/programs/schoolclimatesea/2014-184f.pdf
[4] Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, April 2014, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp
[5] http://fcd-us.org/node/1361
[6] This section is drawn from Anthony S. Bryk et al., Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, 2010, (http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/.
[7] This section draws from Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core, nine research papers prepared for the Students at the Center Symposium, Boston, MA, April 25-26, 2012. Nellie Mae Education Foundation and Jobs for the Future, (http://www.nmefoundation.org/grants/research-development).
[8] Accordingly, SAMHSA has identified trauma prevention as a strategic priority, and considerable work exists on schools and trauma prevention.

Updated June 2015

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