Education policy in the United States has taken a turn in a new direction, and anyone with a stake in public education should celebrate this. Policymakers increasingly recognize that stresses related to student poverty—hunger, chronic illness, and, in too many cases, trauma—are the key barriers to teaching and learning. And calls for tending not only to the academic but also the social, emotional, and physical needs of children are gaining ground across the country. Indeed, the inclusion of the whole-child perspective in the Every Student Succeeds Act shows that this mindset has moved from the margins to the mainstream.
This is a far cry from where we were as a country in June 2008, when a diverse array of education, health, economics, faith, and civil rights leaders—including two of us, Helen Ladd and Pedro Noguera—created the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education to advance an education policy agenda that addresses the barriers poverty poses to children’s educational success. Eight years ago, we urged policymakers to implement quality early-childhood-education programs, health and nutrition supports, and enriching after-school and summer options for students. Research shows that these supports are critical to boosting achievement and helping students graduate with the skills to succeed in college, careers, and life.
Although it was backed by substantial scholarly evidence, many dismissed the agenda as radical. An opposing camp led by civil rights organizations and high-profile district leaders called the initiative’s focus on mitigating the effects of poverty an “excuse” for weak accountability and bad teaching. Their perspective has largely driven education policy, resulting in more high-stakes testing and a “no excuses” mindset for most reform efforts.
But it is clearer every day that their strategy hasn’t worked. Gaps in achievement have persisted and even grown. For example, stagnation or declines in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, among English-language learners and racial and ethnic minority students have highlighted growing deficits for those students relative to their more advantaged peers. And as Detroit, Newark, N.J., and other high-poverty urban districts that emphasized the use of student test scores to