Center for MH in Schools & Student/Learning Supports  


Hot Topics
Information and resources on topics of current interest

Ongoing Hot Issues
Analysis briefs delineating ongoing issues relevant to MH in schools and addressing barriers to learning and teaching
Test Scores Plateauing? Here’s What’s Missing in School Improvement Efforts

School Reform is Failing to Address Barriers to Learning

Getting Back to Real Policy Basics:
Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

Improving Schools? Not Another Special Initiative!

What is Personalized Learning?


Why is there so little attention in ESSA planning with respect to
transforming student and learning supports?

As you may know, our Center recently held a national summit on the Every Student Succeeds Act and Learning Supports: Addressing Barriers to Learning and Teaching to Enhance Equity of Opportunity (January 23 at UCLA the report is online at ).

The subtext for the summit was the need to go well beyond the immediate task of ESSA planning in order to enhance equity of opportunity for success at school and beyond. And the pressing and enduring imperative for every state, district, and for a great number of schools was seen as that of addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students.

Currently, student and learning supports are developed in an ad hoc and piecemeal manner. The majority of the resources are allocated for interventions that address discrete, categorical problems, often with specialized services for a relatively small number of students. The result is that existing supports are highly fragmented. And the whole enterprise remains marginalized in policy and practice.

Given the body of evidence supporting the need for major systemic changes in education, it is surprising how little attention is paid to ways to transform how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and re engage disconnected students. At the same time, given the ongoing ways student and learning support personnel are marginalized and devalued in school improvement policy and practice, it is not surprising that such personnel tend not to be at state, district, and school planning tables. This virtually ensures that too little attention will be paid to making substantive, systemic changes in how essential supports are provided to address factors interfering with student learning for the many in need.

It seems clear that public education is at a crossroads. Its future depends on moving in new directions. The status quo is not an option. Just tweaking and tinkering with old ideas will continue to produce more of the same. Decisions made in coming months need to be innovative in enhancing equity of opportunity. Much needs to be done to make the Every Student Succeeds Act live up to its name and provide a different policy framework when Congress reauthorizes the special education act.

From our perspective, it seems that little systemic change is likely if the associations, guilds, unions, universities, journals, etc. don't focus on transformation of the whole enterprise and encourage their constituents to lead the way to make the essential changes. There is an urgency in all this that should transcend business as usual.

We are interested in your perspective on this critical matter. Send your comments to . We will synthesize the responses we receive and distribute them widely to further build momentum for transforming student and learning supports.

And feel free to share this with concerned others.

We look forward to receiving your comments.


(1) “Well said. I work in the public schools in the role of a 'school psychologist' and I can tell you 'horror stories' of things that go on and that is only at the administrative level! I agree, we need 'TRANSFORMATION' but most people are in the wrong roles to get this done. A lot of them are narcissistic and only interested in how their decisions benefits their selves and in the 'power and control' dynamics. On top of this, it is $$$$$ and how they can benefit from that. [They = Administration]. Our schools are to over focus on outdated methods, missions, and visions. We need much more 'hands on' curriculums and schools, more 'real world', more in the way of fostering creativity, social-emotional learning, all within a 'green curriculum' and how to live this way for the future. We keep on getting more of the same just under different terminology. So, how do we begin to do this? A mass marketing plan to get those interested people and to obtain funding to do it (this is a biggie); innovative schools that attract the 'right' people, this is where psychology comes in to screen out all the wrong people to work in the schools and keep all those who share the same vision and passion. This leads to a different type of teacher and administrative training; we need to new types of teacher and administrative licensure/certification and trainings; one that aligns with this new vision and model. So...let's get going on it!"

(2) "As an educator that has worked in public education for about 40 years, as a elementary teacher, elementary principal, 5th Grade Center Principal, High School Principal, Student Service Director, Elementary Director and 14 years on the State Board of Education, I have found that there is no 'one size fits all' recommendations for educating our American students. Given my experience, I have found that it is so important to find the critical educational outcomes that helps students continue to move through all levels of the educational process. However, no two students are completely alike and so we must focus on individual needs based on expected outcomes for all our youth. It is so important to insure that we are offering multiple opportunities to bring all our students to a place where they can have the basic understanding of being educated, so that they can build upon it at their own need for time and availability for individual differences. I certainly hope that we continue to build our educational offerings and support on the need for individual differences and in relationship to the absolute educational needs for our students to have choice and understanding for their future and the future of our American population! Best Wishes for all of our educational partners and the wonderful students we serve!!!"

(3) "The answer is pretty simple. You have to teach all the kids and the people teaching the children have to have high expectations for each of their students. We must teach being responsible citizens."  

(4) "I don't normally respond to emails centered around issues of policy, as I am typically too busy with running the elementary school I lead to do so. I decided to opt-in today, though. I work at a school that is full of students who have been disadvantaged in life by so many circumstances. Our school is 98% free and reduced lunch status, making us a Title I school. With just over 300 students, the poverty is extremely concentrated in my inner city-rural school. Our corner of the county we are located in is concentrated in crime, joblessness, mental health issues, and high mortality rates in comparison to the rest of the county. My children have the highest rates of homelessness, poverty, single-parent homes, and crime rates out of all the children in the school district here. We decided as a team, that until the crises and trauma that our students were experiencing were addressed, true academic reform could not take place in this building. Some of our initiatives have included placing an onsite therapist at the school to meet the mental health needs of our students. We are also in the process of developing a collaboration with the local community college so that our school can be the site of high school diploma classes and job-readiness skills classes for some of our parents. Our hope is to become a hub for services that most of our parents cannot get to due to transportation issues; to truly become a community school. If our school is to move to the next level by insuring educational equality, it will take all major stakeholders from health, human services, the local college and community college, county and city government, as well as the parents and community members at large partnering with the school to build a new framework that is inclusive and holistic in meeting such a diverse range of needs. Poor is not just poor. There is a complexity and diversity to poverty that we must recognize and address in partnership with those who live the reality if real, sustainable change is achieved. Thank you for asking for my input today. While I have several items on my checklist that still needs my attention, I needed to add my voice to this dialogue. I needed to remind myself that while there is much still to be done, we have at least begun the work here at Graham. I appreciate your willingness to be a part of the solution. Thank you!"

(5) " You mention that student and learning support personnel are marginalized in the creation of policy. I couldn't agree more. What is frustrating to me is that we have had a tremendous shift in our national workforce, and yet have not substantially altered our educational workforce model. Changes in our economy have eroded job opportunities for unskilled and semiskilled workers - this was the economic safety-net for students that were "failed" by the educational system. These people could still find jobs and make a living. This safety-net is largely gone.
      We now know a great deal about how children learn, and what supports and practices are necessary in order to improve the chances of success, yet we are still pretending that these supports and practices can be reliably applied in a systematic way by ONE teacher per classroom. It's as if we stopped thinking and started pretending over fifty years ago that we can think our way out of a problem while still relying on the same teacher:student ratios.
If we can't conquer poverty, then we'd best bring all the human resources we can afford to bear onto the problem. Is this what you are talking about when you say, "At the same time, given the ongoing ways student and learning support personnel are marginalized and devalued in school improvement policy and practice, it is not surprising that such personnel tend not to be at state, district, and school planning tables. This virtually ensures that too little attention will be paid to making substantive, systemic changes in how essential supports are provided to address factors interfering with student learning for the many in need?"
      It's too bad. We know what can help, but we don't have the societal commitment to fund those changes. I can't help but reflex on what a waste it is - to come up with so many practices and policies that will not be effectively implemented." 

(6) "In my short tenure here I feel the burden on us as educators has become noticeably heavier. We are asked to aide an ever-increasing population of children and families with special needs, and after our efforts to address these complex problems, lead these children/families on the difficult journey of learning as members of a class.
     I am sure many of you can say that out of your class you have 4 to 5 kids you consider to have special needs that require special attention. Needs that can and do disrupt the learning environment and require constant attention. In the worse case scenario, these ongoing issues can eat away at our resolve and moral, until we question our purpose and our moral begins to spiral downwards.
     The backbone and strength of our school lies squarely in the resolve, commitment and love of the staff. We know that our population is a population in need, but one that is also full of potential. Please take time to reconnect to what makes you happy and healthy, to what made you become an educator and make it a part of every day. As a community, we can and do support one another on a daily basis. It is where our strength lies and will help us realize our purpose. I will do my very best to remain true to what brought me to education; the love, caring and compassion I feel towards children, and will do my very best to extend the same to my colleagues who share these burdens with me."