The Urgent Need for Whole Child Equity

Each child will follow one of many possible personal pathways to success. But a child’s adverse experiences — especially chronic stress — can have huge impacts on their social, emotional, health, and academic outcomes.

These effects can be mitigated — or even undone — because of the brain’s neuroplasticity. However, this requires appropriate interventions and supports. 

Far too often, a vulnerable child’s needs often go unmet by either the school or some other agency, such as health, mental health, or child welfare services. Also often unmet are the needs of adults who provide relational supports to students.

The key is to match supports and resources to each child in a way that is developmentally appropriate considering that child’s context, especially any exposure to adversities. It is also critical that students have multiple opportunities to succeed and pathways for new talents to develop and flourish.

Past “reforms” intended to narrow disparities in group achievement have generally been disappointing to education decision-makers and stakeholders alike. Poverty is the most villainous explanation, and structural racism is often its sidekick.

But the new science warrants new optimism for the progress of educational opportunity and racial/ethnic justice. 

Science now makes it clear

A child-centered transformation of instructional and social and emotional learning practices requires tailored responses to the circumstances of individual children and youth. And those responses cannot come entirely from schools or school budgets.

Applying these recent advances in child development and brain sciences is essential to improving education outcomes — social, emotional, and academic — for children of color and children who are economically disadvantaged, who are most vulnerable to the failures of schools and “adjacent” child-serving agencies. With new knowledge about both science and practice, public policy can take this transformation to scale.

This work is built off of our former Science of Learning and Development project.