ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Whole Child and All Children: Expanding the Common Core Standards Movement

Post written by Howard Adelman, PhD, and Linda Taylor, PhD, codirectors of whole child partner Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA.

Although we share many of the concerns critics have raised about the Common Core State Standards (and we know that the debates and the boycotts will continue), we do appreciate the concept of Common Core standards.

But from a whole child and all-children emphasis perspective, let's be clear about a couple of crucial matters.

For one, let's not ignore that the Common Core State Standards being widely adopted focus only on school curricula, and so far only on a few facets. Hardly a whole child approach. And let's acknowledge that the movement continues to marginalize efforts to address barriers to learning and teaching. Hardly an approach designed to enable teachers to effectively teach all students.

States concerned with whole child development have been busy trying to expand school curriculum by developing standards for social and emotional learning. That's a good thing as long as schools adopt such standards with a full appreciation of the role the arts play and the many natural everyday opportunities at a school for promoting social and emotional development. But broadening the focus on healthy development is not enough.

Another crucial concern is the lack of a unified and comprehensive focus on addressing barriers to learning and teaching. It is true that the Common Core State Standards include a brief "application to students with disabilities." The standards are silent, however, about those students who, at some time or another, bring problems with them that affect their learning and perhaps interfere with the teacher's efforts to teach. In some geographic areas, many youngsters bring a wide range of problems, stemming from restricted opportunities associated with poverty and low income, difficult and diverse family circumstances, high rates of mobility, lack of English language skills, violent neighborhoods, problems related to substance abuse, inadequate health care, and lack of enrichment opportunities. Such problems are exacerbated as youngsters internalize the frustrations of confronting barriers and the debilitating effects of performing poorly at school. In some locales, the reality often is that more than 50 percent of students are not succeeding. And, in most schools in these locales, teachers are ill-prepared and poorly supported to address the problems in a potent manner.

Standards for learning supports can provide the type of balance to the Common Core State Standards movement that enables schools to provide an equal opportunity for all students to succeed in school and beyond. Without such a balance, the curriculum standards probably will widen the gap between education haves and have-nots and undermine any commitment to develop the whole child. This would hardly be a recipe for enabling better teacher and school performance.

For the Common Core State Standards to succeed, schools must have good teaching focused on the whole child. And they also must have a unified and comprehensive system for addressing barriers to learning and teaching. This calls for a shift in school improvement policy and practice to a three-component approach. Such an approach expands the current primary emphasis on (1) instruction (including curriculum and teaching) and (2) governance and management; it adds a third primary component to focus directly on (3) addressing barriers to learning and teaching. All three components are essential facets of what must take place at schools every day, and efforts to revamp schools cannot afford to marginalize any of them.

Recognizing the need to end the marginalization of student and learning supports, a group of dedicated leaders have developed core standards for a learning supports component (PDF). Such core standards allow for coalescing what is common in all student and learning supports and provide a base on which each professional specialty can establish its unique contribution. The standards stress that addressing barriers to learning and teaching is a primary and essential third component, and they delineate the nature and scope of the component.

Continuing to ignore standards for learning supports perpetuates the myth that teachers alone are responsible for closing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates, and ensuring students are college- and career-ready. This convenient mythology takes a lot of folks off the hook with respect to developing the whole child and enhancing equity of opportunity for all students. It also contributes to the undermining of public education. A simple reality is that teachers can't do it alone (PDF).

We invite all who are concerned about the whole child and all children to join in the effort to ensure that schools are supported in developing a unified and comprehensive system to address barriers to learning and teaching and reengage disconnected students.

Over many years in the roles of classroom teacher, district support staff, school administrators, and university researchers and teachers, Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor have worked with schools, districts, and state departments to enhance equity of opportunity for all students. As codirectors of the national Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, their current focus is on systemic reforms to enhance school and community efforts to address barriers to learning and teaching and reengage disconnected students.

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