Superintendent’s Blog, By Richard H. Faidley
A Nation at Hope
Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child
Thirty-five years ago the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report entitled “A Nation at Risk” that became a pivotal point in educational policy development. The report created a national discussion and angst about the state of our nation’s schools. The report asserted that our schools were failing and it touched off a wave of local, state, and federal reform efforts.
Two decades later, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of 2002 scaled up the federal role holding schools accountable for student outcomes. This led to a national wave of mandated assessments to measure student achievement. The role of the public schools shifted and a frenzied focus on test scores ensued. In addition, NCLB also provided school systems an opportunity to look at classroom instructional practice. What became evident is that the role of the classroom teacher evolved into much more than a test score. Conversations ensued and professional learning communities formed. The art of teaching became the central focus of professional development.
In December 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to replace NCLB. ESSA moved in the opposite direction of its predecessor and focused on paring back the federal role in K- 12 education.
After decades of debate and division we have an opportunity for a fresh start focused on educating the whole child. We are “A Nation at Hope” and according to the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development, we must realize that “children learn best when we treat them as human beings, with social and emotional as well as academic needs. Children require a broad array of skills, attitudes, character traits and values to succeed in school, careers and life.”
Now that we have more than two decades of research from multiple academic fields that demonstrate that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are linked, what should we do as a local community to ensure that our children are given the required skills for success? We should learn by listening to those we serve and provide support structures to meet the needs of our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. “Evidence confirms that supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development benefits all children and relates positively to the traditional measures we care about: attendance, grades, test scores, graduation rates, college and career success, engaged citizenship, and overall well-being.” (National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development, 2019).
The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development outlines five recommendations:
- Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child.
- Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people.
- Embed social, emotional and cognitive skills in academics and in school-wide practices and expectations.
- Build expertise in child development.
- Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child.
These five recommendations provide an excellent roadmap as we continue to extend partnerships, develop school wide programs, provide professional development to staff, and engage our communities to collaborate for the betterment of everyone.
The good news is that in Berks County we have tremendous leaders who have created systems and structures for this work to occur. We have legislators who are focused on working to meet the mental health needs in our communities. And we have staff, students and parents willing to work together to develop the whole child. Please join us on our quest to become “A Nation at Hope.”