Over the summer and fall of 1996, we held a series of three regional
meetings focused on the topic "Policies and Practices for Addressing
Barriers to Student Learning: Current Status and New Directions".
The meetings brought together dedicated leaders from 25 states and
the District of Columbia. They represented a mixture of national,
state, and local agencies and organizations.
We're interested in your views about policy needs in this area
and your ideas about how to move a policy agenda forward. After
reading our analysis, let us know what you think.
The following is an Executive Summary from our Center's
There is growing concern among policy makers and many practitioners
about serious flaws in current policies designed to address barriers
to learning and promote healthy development. Although aimed at
preventing and correcting learning, behavior, emotional and health
problems, these policies squander limited resources and impede good
practice. Reflecting on these concerns, leaders from state and local
agencies and organizations gathered at regional meetings in the fall
and summer of 1996 in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Portland, Maine
to share their perspectives on what's happening currently, what's
getting in the way of necessary systemic changes, and what might
help quicken the pace of reform.
Some current initiatives aim to stimulate increased collaboration
within schools, among schools, between schools and community agencies,
and among agencies at local, state, and federal levels.
Such initiatives mean to enhance cooperation and eventually
increase integrated use of resources. The hope is that cooperation
and integration will lead to better use of limited resources; another
implicit hope is that collaboration will lead to comprehensive services.
There is, however, no explicit policy framework for a comprehensive,
integrated approach to address barriers to learning and promote healthy
development. To underscore this point, it was stressed that in policy
Thus, in both policy and practice, it is evident that developing a
comprehensive, integrated approach continues to be a low priority.
What's getting in the way of elevating the level of priority policy makers
place on developing comprehensive approaches for addressing barriers to
learning? Widely recognized are factors such as limited understanding
and public support, battles among competing stakeholder groups for
narrowly-defined vested interests, the lack of a unifying concept
around which to rally support and guide policy formulation, the problem
of balancing centralized and decentralized governance, rule-driven
accountability, inadequate professional training, a dearth of evidence
on intervention efficacy, and failure of many agencies to take
advantage of shifts in policy.
Given this litany of impediments, how can we move forward more quickly to develop a policy framework for a comprehensive, integrated approach? Participants agreed that the most fundamental need is to elevate the level of priority policy makers assign to addressing barriers to learning. Central to influencing policy priorities is a compelling campaign of education and advocacy. Such a campaign would benefit from being organized around a unifying vision of a comprehensive, integrated approach for addressing barriers to learning and enhancing healthy development.
Planning and implementing any campaign requires development of leadership
and infrastructure. The regional meetings brought together stakeholders
who could take a leadership role in evolving policy to address barriers
to learning. As a next step, our Center proposes to provide technical
assistance for organizing an infrastructure consisting of a steering
committee and work groups at local, state, regional, and national levels.
These groups will focus on creating and implementing multifaceted and
multiyear strategies to enhance widespread understanding and build
constituencies to encourage policy makers to treat the matter of
addressing barriers to learning as a primary concern.
Specifically, the campaign will emphasize the need to develop a unifying policy framework for a comprehensive, integrated approach to address barriers to learning and promote healthy development. Once the initial campaign is well underway, steering and work groups will have to pursue ongoing advocacy to ensure development of:
Finally, the steering and work groups will need to advocate for
scale-up -- policies and strategies to ensure that comprehensive,
integrated approaches are developed and maintained on a large-scale.
As one form of support for all this activity, the Center for Mental
Health in Schools at UCLA will provide a range of technical assistance