School Mental Health Project

ESEA & Transforming Student and Learning Supports
We understand that school improvement policy is fraught with controversies (often stemming from differences in social philosophy and related politics). However, as long of the ultimate intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is to improve how schools address factors that can interfere with student performance and achievement (i.e., barriers to learning and teaching), the reauthorization must avoid perpetuating (a) fragmentation and redundancy of interventions and (b) marginalization of student and learning supports.

As the review of ESEA by Janet Y. Thomas and Kevin P. Brady notes “Since its inception, ESEA has consistently remained the single largest fiscal source of federal support for educationally vulnerable schoolchildren.” The 1965 legislation was enacted to offer equitable educational opportunities to the nation's disadvantaged and has provided financial resources to schools to enhance the learning of underprivileged children. Over the years, the mission of this legislation has remained the same, while evolving to include the needs of English-language learners (the Bilingual Act; Title VII), female students (the Women's Educational Equity Act; Title IX), and Native American students (the Improvement of Educational Opportunities for Indian Students Act; Title X). At the same time, accountability increasingly has been demanded, and many concerns have been and continue to be debated ).

 Unfortunately, most of what we currently see proposed and debated continues to reflect a fundamental disconnect with what a great many schools need to do in order "to ensure that all children have a fair, equitable, and significant opportunity to receive a high quality education." The reasons for the disconnect are the notion that better instruction and management along with a few "supplemental services" can do the job. The irony is that, while a significant proportion of the budget in many schools is devoted to interventions that address learning, behavior, and emotional problems, Congressional policy makers discussing the reauthorization are yet to focus on the need for a fundamental transformation of these student and learning supports. Such a transformation is critical to enhancing equity of opportunity for students to succeed at school and beyond. Ignoring this facet of school improvement is a recipe for maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo that continues to plague too many students, their families, and their communities.

Of course, even if the reauthorization process stalls again or does not focus on transforming student and learning supports, any state, district, or school can begin to unify and develop a comprehensive and equitable system to better address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students. Trailblazing work is already underway (see ). And, the 2015 National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports is designed to help others move in this direction ). We look forward to receiving your comments about this topic. Send them to for posting.

We look forward to receiving your comments about this topic.

Send them to for posting.

As a follow-up to this topic, we sent the following to the over 100,000 folks on our listserv.

About the Senate's Full Committee Hearing on Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders Tuesday, January 27 2015

Congressional hearings are underway for the ESEA Reauthorization. Tuesday's discussions were quite pointed, with some major controversies underscored.

Unfortunately, the statements made at the hearing were highly predictable and more enlightening from the perspective of what generally was not said about supporting teachers and school leaders than what was discussed. With one exception, the main picture presented continues to be that teachers can do it alone. Does anyone really believe that teachers can do it alone in situations where many students are encountering significant barriers to learning and teaching and where many students have become disengaged from school instruction? (See Teachers Can't Do it Alone! -- .)

A meaningful discussion of supporting teachers and school leaders must no longer ignore the need for schools to play a transformed role in directly addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students. Clearly, teachers need their colleagues who provide student and learning supports and they need such supports to be transformed into a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system. (See Transforming Student and Learning Supports: Trailblazing Initiatives! .)

Let us know what your thoughts are about all this so that we can share them in ways that perhaps can help end the marginalization of efforts to transform student and learning supports. Send to or

Here is a sample of what we are hearing back:

From Superintendents:

(1) I fully agree with the concept behind this dialogue. The truth is, no one group can do it alone and it does not matter how skilled, or well-intended that group is, they will not be able to do it alone. In Michigan, we have worked for the past 3 years re-building relationships that some wish would continue to be divided. We have sought those few areas where we can all agree and used those things as a platform to stand together. Yes, the Michigan..... Association of School Boards (MASB), Administrators Association (MASA), Education Association (MEA, teacher union that is part of the National Education Association), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Elementary and Secondary School Principals (MEMSPA), High School Principals Association, Parent Teacher Association, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Individual ISD/RESA's, Individual Local Districts, Individual parents, teachers, administrators, board members, business owners.
      And many more, have come together to create and publish InspirED Michigan! digital magazine to tell our success stories! Great things ARE happening in public education every day and it is time that someone talks about those stories of inspiration, hope, and innovation! See link or Jan issue forwarded below.
     I am sure that there are similar wonderful things happening all over the country - but our stories get overshadowed by the main stream media. I applaud the work you are doing!

(2) Today, I received a text from my daughter who is a special education teacher at a middle school. She vented to me about her testing schedule for the students in her classroom. She has 43 hours of testing she, alone, must conduct, most of it individually with her students. She will not have a substitute teacher nor any volunteer to help her. She and her aide will conduct class, grade papers, support students AND find 43 hours for her to test her students. During that time she will also be responsible for the normal support she gives her special education students. Her final sentence to me was, "How is this Okay?" The answer is, "It is NOT!" Someone must stand up and begin to make reasonable, good policy decisions soon!

(3) I have been in education for 33 years. The truth is that a great many of the problems we have to deal with stem from factors in the home environment that we have little or no ability to change. Broken families, negative role models, abuse, poverty, lack of exemplary behavior, criminal behavior, and the list goes on and on. Schools are an easy target--homes and parents are not. Of course the government will target schools and expect schools to fix everything. They don't dare target parents. I like the way Will Daggett stated it: Schools are truly a mirror of our society. If you get up in the morning and don't like what you see in the mirror, its not the mirror's fault. Let's call a space a spade. Until we solve the problem of parents not stepping up to the plate, schools' capacity to overcome societal problems will continue to be feeble at best. There are the rare individual teachers who can make a difference, but their unique abilities are the exception. The qualities and character traits that enable them to achieve are not something they learned in a college classroom or the government unlocked--these are values stemming from their own home-life and experience. Allocating more money to the schools does help to buy more band-aids, but it doesn't heal the wounds." [we asked" Do you think schools can play a greater role in working with parents and community to address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students?} Response: "This is a far more complex question than it appears on the surface. There are many other questions that have to be asked--and answered in parallel. For younger students, one of the parallel questions is, "can activities and events at a given schools change the behavior, attitudes, and core values of the parents who send student to the school"? A corollary question for older students is "can activities and events at a given schools reverse the behavior, attitudes, and core values parents have modeled and taught to their children"? Schools are funded and evaluated exclusively as institutions of academic learning. Do we now want them to serve as an engines for social and behavioral reform? If the answer to this is yes, then the restructuring of American schools must go well beyond the current role and definition. I believe that schools can play a greater role in working with parents and the community to address learning barriers, but to do so we must equip schools to serve this dual role. Simply put, the vast majority of barriers to learning are not a product of the schools. Students bring these with them. A great many of these barriers are the product of behaviors, attitudes, and values parents have modeled and taught to their children. Currently schools are not designed or funded to effective reduce or eliminate these barriers.

(4) Until there can be a true and real discussion as to whether we want schools to provide public education that is world class or we just want to have schools that continue to prepare kids for the 20th century, not the 21st and have a discussion about the fact that wanting to be among the best means investing in a similar manner, not much is going to change.

(5) I have been a teacher and public school administrator for the past 42 years. It drives me nearly insane when I hear how our public schools are failing and that the education system is broken. It also drives me nearly insane when I see that people with no experience at all in public education are making decisions that directly impact our public education system, when the only thing they know about teaching is what they remember as students. And, most of those who stand up and say our schools are failing probably did not even attend a public school. They are so far off base, it makes me want to SCREAM!
I write a column in our local newspaper about education issues in an effort to provide the truth about our public education system to our patrons. Below is a summary of not only my opinion, but the way it is.

  1. As long as 100% proficiency or above is the goal in order for a school to be considered effective, our public schools will always be considered a failing system. This goal is unrealistic and sets the schools up for failure. Do you believe there is any education system in the world, public or private, that can meet that goal? Not if they are testing all students. 
  2. Schools could do better if there was not so much emphasis placed on an end of the year assessment given for three subjects. Three subjects do not make a well-rounded education. Due to the pressure being placed on teachers and school districts regarding these test scores, other areas are being grossly neglected. We are in fact, evaluating a school based on the academic performance of the lowest performing students in only three subjects. And, I am not even convinced that these assessments are even valid. For one, there is no incentive for students to do their best on these assessments. Secondly, is it not ironic that every time the goals and assessments are revised, the scores drop and then they begin to climb as we learn to "teach to the test." So in fact, the scores get better, but this does not convince me more learning is taking place.
  3. There is a problem in our public schools with too many incompetent teachers being allowed to remain in the classroom. The great majority of our teachers do a good job and are in it for the right reasons. However, administrators in many schools are not doing their due diligence in evaluating and removing the bad teachers from the classroom. One of the main reasons has to do with the local school boards who will not support removing certain teachers from the classroom because of politics (if the teacher knows the right people, her job is safe in many schools.) Although I have been fortunate in that every teacher I have recommended for termination due to incompetence has been supported, I know of many situations where the principals and superintendents were not supported. Once this occurs, you can bet the administrators are not going to go out of their way to recommend the termination of a teacher in the future. As a result, incompetent teachers are allowed to remain in the classroom.
  4. We can't ignore the fact that what a student brings with them or does not bring with them to school has a great impact on whether or not they can learn up to their potential. For some reason, those who get to make all of the decisions regarding the evaluation of school districts, believe that we as educators are just making excuses when we mention poverty. It is not an excuse, it is real reason why we have not been successful in educating every student.
Just one time, I would like to see someone who has been in the trenches and promoted to a position where they can have some impact on education policy stand up and tell it like it is instead of saying the politically correct things.


From Principals:

(1) While serving as a state representative for Iowa and later as a national board member for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, I lobbied on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for 12 years. There is a huge disconnect and misunderstanding from many of our lawmakers when it comes to what educators need for our children to be successful in our schools. The longer our lawmakers are in office, the more difficult it is to engage and educate them on our concerns and needs. Believe me, most lawmakers operate on their own memories of what school was like for them when they were in their formative years, and they don't take the time to actually stop by our schools on a regular basis to learn more about what is happening in education today. When you advocate, please know that principals are working to help teachers too, and all educators! Our President and lawmakers are lost in the "Koolaid" fog! I have been a teacher (13 years) and elementary principal (21 years) and what is happening in our country literally makes me sick to my stomach. We have to continue to advocate and tell our story, over and over again.

(2) I would suggest making short Flip Camera clips or presentations on a I-pad or some other compact device that could be easily shown to the lawmaker or aide to share your story as to why funding, action is needed. I would always tell the story and how it affects the children in my school, to address the effects of a recent law they passed, funding or lack thereof, etc. (Always "bring it home" to the lawmakers home area and the constituents he/she represents as they why they were sent to Washington, to represent their constituents!)
       Whatever action was taken in Washington should be addressed with actual footage and handouts of stories that actually happen in your school as a result of what they approved or ignored. I would recommend frequent communication with the person's elected officials and to make the efforts to go and see them when they are making their rounds in their state or district. It is important to frequently take time after their speech to reacquaint, let them know who you are and who you represent (your students!) and stroke their ego a bit. LOL ...
       Even though I don't get the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. much anymore (wish I did!) I still make every effort to regularly advocate and visit with our lawmakers, both state and Federal levels, on a regular basis. It is the only way we will get change. But, we have too many people who don't take the time to get involved. They would rather wring their hands and complain about what is happening - well, I tell them to kick it in gear and take the time to advocate, because if we don't, who will?

(3) My input would be that we cannot expect teachers to efficiently teach and be counselors, social workers, special education teachers, and peer evaluators etc....
       Though I am quite aware that the era of Henry Ford and assembly line education is over, the basic efficiency of one worker doing one job well still applies.
       Ford was able to sell his cars at a reasonable price with reasonable quality because of worker specialization. Hand built cars where one or two individuals build it from scratch existed then and still exist today and the quality can be great but… the number produced is drastically lower.
       I bring this up because the analogy works quite well with class size. If we want our teachers to "build the car from scratch serving all roles for the students," then class size must be much smaller- and not two or three students smaller. Class sizes are not smaller. If anything they are much larger. Teachers were able to teach large classes and meet the needs of the students when other staff were there in supporting roles. For example- intervention specialists, special education teachers, instructional aides, school social workers, parent liaisons, deans of students, assistant principals etc… With all the cuts we have faced, those roles in schools are largely gone.
       Both research and logic would support the argument that what is being proposed in the Senate won't work.


From School Support Staff:

(1) I have very strong feelings about this topic. I work in a district where we are at a 94% free and reduced lunch rate, 35% of our students qualify as being "homeless" and then you add all the other "things" taking place in our students' lives. Daily there are students who cannot get work done because they are worried about having food to eat, a warm place to sleep, whether or not they will be living with their mom/dad, and mental health issues (eating disorders, suicide attempts, rape, etc.). I think it would be horrible to expect teachers to do all of this on their own, while having to teach state standards.

(2) This is in response to your last email on congressional hearings and the idea that teachers can do it alone. Society has changed but education is still pretending it hasn't. With poverty, drug addiction, gang involvement, trauma, abuse, ………… Teachers are expected to stay on topic (common core objectives) ignoring the previous problems. They are to put the objective on the board and never stray from it. And kids? They are expected to leave all their issues at the door and perform as well as students that have not been exposed to these issues. They are supposed to magically obtain social skills, do homework in the midst of chaos etc. We don't have money for counselors, librarians etc. So who is there to help them find services and even care in the first place to draw them out to see what the issues and needs might be? Crazy. Naïve. It's living in the past where communities knew all the families that lived within and supported one another. Just not so any more. We are in the trenches. Teachers are discouraged and leaving the profession because their dreams of teaching children who are ready to learn are being stolen. We are in trouble. We need to wake up.

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