Archive for the ‘Social Emotional Learning’ Category

Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms: What Education Can Learn from the Social Determinants of Health

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Individual behaviors play a role in educational outcomes, but inequitable social and economic factors loom even larger.


We know that children of all backgrounds—including those from adverse environments—can find success in school and in life. But the stark, empirical reality tells us public education still mostly favors the haves over the have-nots. Research shows (see also here and here) that access to three main levers of money, resources, and power still by and large determines whether a child will get a good education.

There is little doubt among education reformers that this needs to change. But after decades of efforts and initiatives aimed at closing achievement and opportunity gaps, the scales remain mostly unbalanced.

As we in the education world chip away on important issues like career preparation, 3rd grade literacy, or social and emotional learning, one can argue that the bigger, more important battles are the ones that influence broader federal, state, and local government policies that direct the all-important flow and distribution of money, power, and resources.

From finance to justice to social policies—there are many examples of indirect levers that can have strong impacts on students and their families, including property tax distribution and payday loan laws. Data shows persistent academic disparities related to income: Impoverished students are not inherently less smart, they are just less likely to have access to high-quality early childhood programs, adequate health care, and reliable transportation—things we know sets kids up for success in school.

Like the fabled Butterfly Effect, there are many seemingly unrelated forces, factors, and decisions that impact equity and our public education system.

Often, those of us working in education policy direct our focus at the individual-, school- or program-level, without addressing the role inequitable policy plays in education outcomes. While effective programs can provide students, parents, and teachers with supports they need in the here and now, they often don’t address the root of educations problems.

For example, parent engagement programs are well-intentioned attempts at getting parents more involved with their child’s academics. Research on parent involvement found that many programs start with the assumption that some parents do not care about their child’s education. However, these programs don’t always address the barriers to involvement that parents face, including long work hours, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, language and cultural barriers, and exclusive school policies.

Noble as they are, such programs often face an uphill battle when they try to change individual behaviors rather than advocating for transformative policies.

But what if we borrowed a page from the health reform playbook?

The social determinants of health is an approach that shifts the framing of health reform debate from the individual to the system. This approach takes a holistic view by examining the interconnectedness of education, health, and social factors such as policymaking. And it does represent an innovative approach to dealing with our public health woes—and poses a ripe opportunity for education reform.

The Social Determinants of Health

Next month at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference on Education, leaders from Delaware’s health, education, public policy, and social services worlds will collide on stage for a panel discussion on the social determinants of health and education.

So what exactly are the determinants of health? Public policies, income, individual behaviors, social power, public safety, and discrimination to name a few. Social and economic factors, at around 40 percent, are the largest contributors to a person’s health, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—compared to health behaviors (30 percent), physical environment (10 percent) and clinical care (20 percent).

Health care reformers use this idea to illuminate the role that money, power, and resources play in health access and outcomes. And, education and health are certainly interdependent (here and here). Typically, Americans with more education live longer, healthier lives—while poor health can compromise good education if a student cannot focus, is missing school, or has a learning disability.

Education reform could do well to learn from this example and begin to focus less on changing individuals and more on creating and implementing transformative, equitable policies.

Data tell us vast gaps exist between students of color and those from low-income backgrounds when compared to their white, more affluent peers. While we cannot discount the role individual behavior plays in educational outcomes, we must pay explicit attention to how policies and practices influence behaviors and outcomes.

Changing the narrative shifts the approach

By examining the problem from the lens of policy and practice, reformers can begin to ask hard questions about their efforts: Does our work target rules, practices, and norms that create, maintain, and exacerbate inequitable education disparities and outcomes?

Economic and social policy greatly influence how students perform, the efficacy of teaching practices, and the role of parents in education. As education reformers recognize this, they will begin to scrutinize the distribution of money, power, and resources and form solutions that create a fairer balance of these factors.

The social determinants of health offers an innovative approach to education reform that requires us all to ask hard questions about how we select the point of change, what (or who) we see as needing to be changed, and how we intend to change it. As we continue to search for solutions, we have an opportunity to use this approach to holistically address the root source of inequitable educational outcomes, and hopefully, to create a sustainable education system that equitably serves all students, teachers, and parents.

Digging Deeper: Physical Health Impacts Education, Too

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In Delaware, and across the nation, schools are providing a deeper focus on both social and emotional learning and physical health. Next month, community members, educators, and policymakers from across the state will converge at the University of Delaware to talk about the intersection of health and education at the 10th Annual Vision Coalition Conference.


We often hear about the correlation between higher levels of education and higher salaries and lower unemployment rates. And we know that a person with a higher level of education is more likely to move up the socio-economic ladder, be an active citizen, have a better understanding of political issues, and more likely to vote in elections. However, we don’t often hear about the relationship between educational attainment and health—despite the fact that a positive relationship exists.


Students with high levels of education are also more likely to enjoy healthier lifestyles—reducing health care costs over time as they exercise more, smoke less, and experience lower rates of obesity. So how are Delaware youth doing when it comes to physical health?


A survey of Delawareans ages found that overall, children and youth are exceeding the Center for Disease Control’s recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Still, as students get older, they typically spend less time exercising. The Center of Disease Control reported physically active students tend to perform better academically, have better memory, and exhibit on-task behavior—all traits necessary for academic success.


In fact, the CDC suggests a complimentary relationship between health and education—that is, the healthier your lifestyle, the better your academic performance (and social and emotional skills) and the higher your educational attainment/academic performance, the greater the likelihood you live a healthy lifestyle.


Of course, physical health alone will not win high academic marks on its own. Access to quality, comprehensive, and coordinated family-centered care is attributed to higher in-school performance and a lower likelihood of risky behavior.


On average, just six out of 10 of all Delaware children have access to adequate medical care. However, there are still major disparities between children of color and their white peers. For example, more than 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino children in Delaware do not have access to the adequate medical care.


As this field continues to expand, it is important to note that developing the “whole child” is not a new idea. In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on providing students with social and emotional learning, physical and mental health development, nutrition, and exposure to the arts. The incorporation of social and emotional skills—communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and creativity—along with strong academic components has generated positive outcomes for children in Delaware and beyond. (For more information on Rodel’s engagement in the area of social and emotional learning, visit our website here.)


Despite the gains in both areas of health and education, Delaware still has a lot of work to do in setting up our young people for successful lives after graduation.


Want to get involved? Here are some local groups leading the charge.


  • Delaware Readiness Teams are working in communities throughout the state to ensure kids are healthy and ready to hit the ground running in kindergarten by advocating and promoting developmental screenings, referral, and follow-up services; making sure families receive information on children’s health and developmental milestones; and, promoting alongside families’ activities that education on health and wellness.


Want to learn more? Visit our blog for more developments or our posts on the whole child approach, our latest screening of “Resilience,” and more.

10 Questions with Michelle Shaivitz of DEAEYC

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With momentum continuing to build in Delaware, there’s never been a better time to get involved in early childhood education.

We talked with Michelle Shaivitz, executive director of the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children to learn more about advocacy, supporting the workforce, and where our state should focus next.


  1. Tell us a little about DEAEYC. What’s your goal and how to you work towards it?


DEAEYC is the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children. We are an affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. We’ve been around a while, however, within the last 20 years we’ve really pushed to increase the level of quality in the classroom with kids birth through age eight.


DEAEYC serves and acts on behalf of the needs, rights and well-being of all young children and their families in Delaware.


My job as executive director is to elevate the entire state of Delaware to be aware of how important early learning really is. Not just for the children, but for the overall wellbeing of our state and our country. Early education is one of the number one deterrents for any social issues that a child will face later.


What we strive to do is focus on the whole child. Those who are with them in the classroom all day, the parents and families that surround that child, the neighborhood that these children come from—we’re looking at the whole child and the continuum of care they get all day. We do a lot of advocacy work. We have an advocacy day in Legislative Hall each year. And we try to educate our legislators and state leaders about the importance of early education when it comes to funding, but also policies and regulations and procedures.


DEAEYC staff at Legislative Hall for Early Childhood Advocacy Day


  1. Tell us about the WK Kellogg project.


The State of Delaware has to realize that if a child comes to school hungry, if they’ve been through the trauma of homelessness—they’re not coming to school ready to learn.


Our goal is to get them into the classroom ready to learn. With this Kellogg grant, we were given a grant for two years at $500,000, and it is a community school model for early education centers in the City of Wilmington. We have human service representatives that are employed by DEAEYC, and they are advocates for the child and families and they meet people at the level of need—not just children and families but the people that work in the classroom.


We have two family service advocates that go onsite to early learning centers and work with families and early learning educators to secure many human services such as food, housing, Purchase of Care assistance, WIC, health care referrals, Food Stamps (SNAP) program, and more.


  1. We’re excited to promote the state’s recent early learning workforce survey. Why is the workforce so important?


I don’t think the average person knows that the person taking care of your child Monday through Friday in an early learning center makes less money than the person who served your coffee at Starbucks. And that’s the truth. We need to know who’s in our classrooms teaching our children, and we need to know how we can help them succeed. Because if we’re not supporting them, we’re not supporting early learning at all.


  1. What does DEAEYC do to support early learning educators?


DEAEYC runs programs like T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Delaware and the WAGE$ Program. T.E.A.C.H. gives scholarships to those working in early learning and wanting to advance their careers. We offer people who are just starting out in college, first-generation college goers. We give out hundreds of thousands of dollars to service hundreds of educators with scholarships throughout the year.



  1. What, in your mind, are some potential solutions to building up the early learning profession?


One of the things that we see is the level of professional development that is provided to our early learning workforce—the quality needs to be increased. We also have to expand different learning techniques for infants and toddlers. We also need to understand that those in the classroom are at or below the poverty level. And that’s a problem. We have to find ways to compensate those who are in the classroom, and level the playing field between our early learning teachers and our K-12 teachers. Just because you’re leaving preschool and going to kindergarten, there shouldn’t be a $20,000 or $30,000 difference.


  1. Is there anything from your background—either personally or professionally—that drives your focus and passion for this work?


I have been in education my entire professional life. I taught pre-school to college, and still continue to teach master’s-level courses today. I think education is the most important things we can do. What has motivated me to turn to early learning—when my husband and I spent over a decade as foster parents to some of the most needy children you can imagine.


What I learned from that experience—taking in children who were transient, who had the least amount of access to good, solid education—is that we were able to change the trajectory of their lives even in the short time they were in our homes, because we valued education, because we could focus on the child and met them at the basic level of their needs, and we knew what exactly what kind of classrooms they needed. That’s what led me to really believing the key to success for future generations—and everyone, really—is educating our youngest learners. It is the biggest return on investment you can get in this country today. Period—bar none.


  1. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for improvement?


There are quality opportunities for all children in Delaware, but there are large barriers. Arguably the children who have the most need have the least access. Children who are from the lower economic echelon have the least access. Middle-income families as well. One of the biggest components for Delaware is these very deep pockets of poverty, very low-income families who can take advantage of government support but still can’t access early learning. Then you have middle-class families who do not qualify for government support, and they’re stuck somewhere in-between. So there are two huge sets of populations of children who are missing out on high-quality early learning.


  1. As someone who’s been around Delaware for a while, can you put into words just how far we’ve come in terms of building out the early childhood system?


We’re not there yet. But we’ve gone from a system where early childhood centers were glorified babysitters and come so far. Now we understand that children that age learn things throughout the day and need quality care and formal educations in these centers. Research has demonstrated over and over again that higher school achievement and social adjustment are connected to quality early learning.


  1. What’s next for DEAEYC?


We’re shifting our focus to the whole child—not just children and families but also the workforce. We have a new membership structure that we’ll be rolling out this fall, plus a new website and logo coming out this fall. Lots of great new initiatives that will show people who we are, what we do, and why early childhood education is so important.


  1. Any final thoughts?


Just this: Good early care in education is going to require a lot of people sitting at the table making good sound judgements—and reasonably compensating our workforce in order to move things forward.

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