Taking student support to the next level – K-12 Dive | Team Cansler

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Julia Freeland Fisher is Director of Education at Clayton Christensen Institute and author of Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations that Expand Students’ Networks. Joan Wasser Gish is Director of Systemic Action at the Boston College Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children.

The Biden administration is doubling its investment in student support. The upcoming FY23 budget is $468 million for community schools.

The administration is new National partnership for academic success Calls on districts to use billions in federal stimulus funds to reach 250,000 “caring adults” who support students as tutors, mentors, student success coaches, all-round service coordinators, and post-secondary transition coaches. That Bipartisan Safer Communities Act improves the training and recruitment of school counselors and mental health staff. States are too increasingly the number of school social workers and mental health professionals.

These investments place great reliance on the familiar but ill-defined notion of “student advancement” as a critical activity of education systems, particularly those serving students from low-income households.

Julia Freeland Fisher

Permission granted by Julia Freeland Fisher

However, history and research suggest that well-intentioned but unrelated “support” investments can fall short. More resources and human resources alone may not be enough to achieve better learning and economic outcomes for children growing up in poverty.

But these results are possible. To use public funds, schools and communities should tap into the growing research on integrated student support and social capital, which points to the immense potential of systematically creating individualized plans and coordinating well-resourced networks for students furthest from opportunity.

Integrate sponsors, build social capital

There is a small but growing literature behind the science of “integrated student support”. What sets it apart from the many traditional approaches to student support out there? Integrated student support models are not just about connecting students to other services or interventions.

Instead, they are staffed and designed to ensure a personalized offering of school and community-based resources, tailored to students’ individual strengths and needs. Some of these programs that integrate supports, such as Boston College’s City Connects program, have strong peer-reviewed evidence better test results, better participation, reduced dropout ratesand greater likelihood of Enrollment and completion of secondary school.

Researchers continue to investigate what causes these findings, but some of the findings suggest that not only do students gain access to resources, but they also gain a strong network of relationships — between coordinators, students, families, teachers and community members. This network itself is the channel through which life-changing relationships, resources, and opportunities travel.

Joan Water Gish

Permission granted by Joan Water Gish

The findings mirror other emerging research on the social side of opportunity. For example recently Opportunity Insights identified the oversized role of well-equipped social networks when it comes to increasing students’ chances of economic mobility.

In other words, knowing people who can provide direct emotional, academic, and financial support and provide additional connections is key to helping students do well in school. It also seems crucial to help them get ahead in school and at work in the long run.

But these networks don’t appear out of the blue, especially for students who may be experiencing displacement, are recent immigrants, are learning English, or come from families focused on economic survival. Building networks equipped to respond to student needs and interests requires purpose, process, and trust-building—the very activities that updated systems and infrastructure for integrated student support and opportunity could achieve.

Why current investments in neighborhoods and schools are falling short

Policymakers hoping to improve outcomes for low-income children seem to understand the importance of resources and connections, but rarely fund them in close concert. This requires a more precise vision and strategy for building networks than previously prevailing approaches.

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