In response to these challenges and others, ASCD adopted a position on the whole child in 2004 and initiated a series of strategies to change the global conversation about education for each child. In 2006, ASCD convened the Commission on the Whole Child, composed of leading thinkers, researchers, and practitioners from a wide variety of sectors. ASCD released the Commission's report, The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action, and launched a new public engagement Web site (www.wholechildeducation.org) at its 2007 Annual Conference in Anaheim, Calif.
Now, ASCD calls on parents, educators, policymakers, and communities to join forces to ensure our children become productive, engaged citizens. Our children deserve an education that emphasizes academic rigor as well as the essential 21st century skills of critical thinking and creativity. ASCD proposes a broader definition of achievement and accountability that promotes the development of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. The Commission's report recommends a new compact with our young people. The compact asks local, state, and national policymakers to ensure conditions that support comprehensive approaches to learning through which to engage the whole child.
The Whole Child Compact asks that communities look at the whole picture and make sure that
- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
- Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally
safe for students and adults.
- Each student is actively
engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
- Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported
by qualified, caring adults.
Each graduate is challenged by a well-balanced curriculum and is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment.
The compact is based on common sense: hungry kids can't learn; scared kids can't think; bored kids don't thrive. The compact challenges federal, state, and local policymakers and practitioners to radically change their interactions. “If decisions about education policy and practice started by asking what works for the child, how would resources—time, space, and human—be arrayed to ensure each child's success? If the student were truly at the center of the system, what could we achieve?” asks ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter (Commission on the Whole Child, 2007, p. 4). Parents, taxpayers, community and business leaders, and educators must work together and hold each other accountable for both the content and the conditions that support learning.
Now, more than ever, a great education is the ticket to a good life at work, at home, and in the community. Over a lifetime, workers with a high school degree will out-earn those who do not graduate by more than half a million dollars, and those with a bachelor's degree will outearn high school graduates by more than 1 million dollars (Commission on the Whole Child, 2007). Individuals with higher education tend to be more civically engaged, healthier, and happier. With the stakes higher than ever before, it makes no sense to shortchange our children's futures.
Whole Child Education Policy and Practice
Throughout the world, examples of whole child education are showing up in schools, district policies, and legislation introduced at the state and national levels. This section examines some of the promising activities around the world that illustrate each of the five principles of the Whole Child Compact.
Research is clear: children's health is an important factor in student achievement. It makes sense that for students to learn at high levels, they must first be healthy. Students who are sick, come to school hungry, can't breathe because of asthma, can't see the blackboard because of poor vision, or can't concentrate because of pervasive toothaches or depression are unlikely to do well academically.
However, only seven U.S. states have rewards or incentives for health-related programs in schools. Fourteen states have reporting systems for health and nutrition programs, and only 17 states have created committees or task forces centered on school nutrition and fitness improvement. Five states do not mandate any physical education for high school graduation, and 18 states mandate only one credit of physical education for graduation, according to the Education Commission of the States (2007).
These failures in policy have an obvious impact. For instance, over the past 30 years, the obesity rate has nearly tripled for children ages 2–5 (from 5 to 14 percent) and youth ages 12–19 (from 5 to 17 percent) and has more than quadrupled for children ages 6–11 (from 4 to 19 percent) (Institute of Medicine, 2006). The National Governors Association, which represents all 50 U.S. governors, says: “The prevalence of obesity among U.S. students contributes to poor academic performance, increases health and education costs, and threatens to constrain state budgets and economic growth” (2006, p. 1).
Yet, some promising practices and trends are evident. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires schools that participate in the federal school meals program to enact a wellness policy.
State responses vary. For example, Mississippi recently passed the Mississippi Healthy Students Act, which requires a minimum period of physical activity-based instruction for students in grades K–8 and mandates one unit of physical education for high school graduation. Beginning in the 2008–09 school year, local school wellness plans must promote physical activity, healthy eating habits, and abstinence from the use of tobacco and illegal drugs. The law also requires the state's board of education to adopt regulations for districts that address healthy food and beverage choices, healthy food preparation, marketing of healthy food choices to students and staff, minimum and maximum time allotments for student and staff lunch and breakfast periods, and methods for increasing participation in child nutrition and school breakfast and lunch programs.
Student health improves when kids have access to medical professionals. For many children from low-income families, this access is nonexistent. At the federal level in the United States, the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) is one of the more promising programs designed to help alleviate some of these concerns. S-CHIP provides health insurance to children who do not have it and health services for families that are essentially the working poor—people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford health insurance. S-CHIP provides the bridge or support necessary to ensure the benefits and access to services. The program reaches some 6 million children nationally. Unfortunately, close to 15 million children are eligible. The reauthorization of this program is focused on expanding both the access and the benefits.
Promising programs like these will help to provide a solid foundation of healthy children prepared to learn.
It makes sense that for students to learn at high levels, they must first feel safe and secure. Students who are fearful, bullied, or distracted by fights and other disruptive behavior are unlikely to do well academically.
Too many children do not feel safe and secure in school. For example, only 38 percent of U.S. students always feel safe at school, and 30 percent rarely or never feel safe (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). In fact, among participants in the International Health Behavior in School-aged Children survey, which included Canada, the United States, and 26 countries in Europe and the Middle East, in only five countries did 50 percent or more of students always feel safe in school. About two-thirds (62 percent) of high school dropouts say their schools should have done more to enforce classroom discipline (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006).
Highly public incidents of school violence have resulted in national, state, and school-specific policies to support student safety. As of 2005, there were 17 states with antibullying statutes (Dounay, 2005). However, the problem goes beyond bullying, and schools and states need to have other options in place to increase safety. These options include providing adequate support systems and teaching students and others how to deal with conflicts responsibly and nonviolently.
For example, student services programs in Arkansas must include group conflict resolution services. At the elementary school level in Louisiana, schools must offer programs in behavioral training that address cooperation and conflict resolution skills.
Educators around the world have begun to address social and emotional learning in comprehensive ways to support the learning of all children. Every school in Israel must have a curriculum component addressing “life skills”; the Ministry of Education in Singapore includes a Guidance Branch that identifies social-emotional learning as its core business; and, in 2004, the Ministry of Education of Colombia launched national standards of quality for citizenship education in schools as a component of the policy for the quality of education (CASEL, n.d.). When schools are safe, students are free to focus on learning and teachers on teaching.
It makes sense that for students to learn at high levels, they must first be motivated to learn and interested in their studies. Students who are bored by their classes, not motivated to achieve, and unable to see the connection between what they're learning in school and their real-world goals are unlikely to succeed academically and become productive members of society connected to and supported by the community at large.
The High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE), conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, reports that, of the more than 80,000 students surveyed, 2 out of 3 are bored in class at least once a day (Yazzie-Mintz, 2006). In addition, of those students who had considered dropping out, 60 percent indicated they did not see the value of the work they were doing, and 73 percent reported that they didn't like their school. Of even greater concern is a significant engagement gap. Students in honors, college preparatory, or other advanced classes report being more engaged academically, socially, and emotionally (a measure of the feeling of connectedness to the school) than students in any other curricular track. Further, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals at school report lower engagement across all three areas than students from higher-income families (Yazzie-Mintz, 2006).
Both the HSSSE survey results and other research provide the information educators and communities need to change their policies. Students report high levels of engagement with instructional strategies that connect them to their peers (like group projects and debates) and in which they are active participants (like presentations, role-plays, and art- and drama-based activities). Service learning, character education, and civic education research reinforce the students' views. Students who participate in service learning demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement and more positive attitudes toward school and education (RMC Research Corporation, 2006). Additionally, high school students who are civically engaged not only make greater academic progress than their peers but also are more likely to graduate from college.
Excellent models of student engagement exist worldwide. Learn and Serve America provides grants to state education agencies to train educators, volunteers, service learning coordinators, and students in service learning and recognizes schools that are leaders in the field. Hudson (Mass.) Public Schools has implemented a comprehensive, coordinated character education program in K–12 that integrates service learning and civic education in developmentally meaningful ways.
Supported by a district-level character education and service learning coordinator, schools throughout the district use a variety of instructional materials and instructional techniques to teach and provide children opportunities to practice empathy, ethics, and service. The instructional and curricular emphasis culminates in the physical structure and governance of Hudson High School. The new school building, completed in 2003, was designed to foster responsibility and build community. An eight-cluster structure with large meeting spaces surrounded by classrooms facilitates a student governance model that engages each student in school decision making. Convened for an hour each week, interest-based clusters meet to discuss current schoolwide issues, organize service projects, participate in school-to-college/career planning, and engage with staff members with similar interests.
Unfortunately, despite excellent models and clear research, far too few school districts, states, and nations have policies related to student engagement. School districts are placing far more emphasis on training teachers in specific content than on instructional strategies that engage the learners they serve. Federal funding for service learning implementation has been threatened to near extinction in recent budget battles.
It makes sense that for students to learn at high levels, they must first feel supported by caring, qualified adults. Students who don't have access to adult role models, advisors, mentors, or counselors—or to teachers who understand their social and emotional development—are unlikely to do well academically.
Personalizing learning is critical to fostering engagement and increasing student performance. Many education experts believe learning works best when it is personalized. “Different minds learn differently,” says Mel Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School and one of the best-known education scholars in the United States. “To treat everyone the same is to treat them unequally” (Furger, 2004, para. 1).
Yet, the majority of schools in the United States continue to operate under the 100-year-old Carnegie unit system, defining learning by time spent in a classroom and performance on a single measure. Only recently have schools, districts, and states begun to identify alternative and flexible options for students to demonstrate learning over time. Nancy Grasmick, state superintendent of Maryland, recently proposed the Bridge Plan, which offers highly rigorous alternative assessments such as projects and portfolios in lieu of required graduation exams. Even at the federal level, both the GRADUATES Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Harry Reid, and (at press time), the preliminary discussion draft of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization legislation included personalized learning as part of school improvement.
Equally important is the encouragement of relationships between students and caring adults in schools. Too many children do not benefit from this kind of support. Too few teachers have learned about child development as part of their education or ongoing professional development, and these programs often place little emphasis on the relationships between students and adults. The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students across all grade levels, but the current average ratio is 488 students to 1 adult, with several states exceeding the ratio of 700 to 1. According to MENTOR (www.mentoring.org), nearly 15 million at-risk students need mentors but don't have them. If you reflect on your own favorite teacher, you can see the critical nature of the student-teacher relationship.
It makes sense that for students to learn at high levels, they must have access to a 21st century curriculum that both challenges and inspires them. Students who spend most of their day being lectured and drilled in only reading and math and don't have access to broader courses in subjects such as the arts, music, social studies, and civics are more likely to tune out and less likely to do well in school.
New state laws reflect the need to build a skilled workforce and move toward a global economy. Legislation was introduced in Florida to help improve academic performance and use strategic plans to respond to local and regional workforce needs. The legislation also calls for the creation of career and professional academies in schools.
In Washington State, a new law calls for the creation of a committee on the education of students in high-demand fields. The committee would develop a plan to increase the capacity of higher education institutions to educate 10,000 more students by 2020, to provide more incentives for students to take more math and science courses, and to encourage businesses to form more partnerships with the state and higher education institutions to produce graduates in the state's high-demand fields.
These examples contrast with the Center on Education Policy's finding that 40 percent of districts have decreased time in social studies, science, the arts, physical education, and even lunch and recess to increase time in reading and mathematics instruction (McMurrer, 2007). The percentage is even higher for those schools that have been identified for improvement through NCLB regulations. While business leaders clamor for the critical thinking and creativity nurtured through a broad curriculum reflecting 21st century skills, too many students sit in repetitive, lecture-based classes in which learning is measured through multiple-choice, memory-based responses.
We must all invest in today's students by making sure they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged because schools can't do it alone. Educating the whole child asks more of our families, teachers, communities, and students and requires the active support of business and civic leaders. However, when we come together to provide this education, the return on this investment is exponentially larger. We want our children educated not only in reading and math but also in history, foreign language, arts, civics, and all of the other subjects that prepare people for success in this increasingly global economy. But more than test scores or grades, we want our children to be good citizens: positive, productive, and contributing to their communities and the world. We can do better. Our kids deserve better—starting now.
Become an Advocate for Education
ASCD is working to change federal policy and we need your help. Infobrief explores federal policy changes and issues that may be considered by Congress. By joining Educator Advocates, you can make your voice heard efficiently and effectively. To learn more or to sign up to become an advocate, visit ASCD's Action Center at www.ascd.org/actioncenter.
Coordinated School Health Programs
The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (n.d.) defines a coordinated school health program as one that includes:
Here are some worldwide resources for comprehensive school health programs:
- Health Education: The K–12 curriculum is planned, comprehensive, and sequential and addresses physical, mental, emotional, and social health.
- Physical Education: The K–12 curriculum is planned and sequential and provides cognitive content and learning experiences in various activity areas.
- Health Services: Qualified providers, including nurses, physicians, and health educators, provide services for students that appraise, protect, and promote health.
- Nutrition Services: All students have access to a variety of nutritious and appealing meals that accommodate their health and nutrition needs.
- Counseling and Psychological Services: Qualified providers focus on improving students' mental, emotional, and social health.
- Healthy School Environment: This includes physical and aesthetic surroundings, as well as the school's psychosocial climate and culture.
- Health Promotion for Staff: The school helps staff improve their health by offering opportunities such as health assessments, health education, and fitness activities.
- Family and Community Involvement: The school uses an integrated approach that involves the school, parents, and community in enhancing students' health and well-being.
Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., Jr., & Morison, K. B. (2006, March). The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (n.d.). SEL across the globe. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from www.casel.org/sel/globe.php
The Commission on the Whole Child. (2007). The learning compact redefined: A call to action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Dounay, J. (2005). State anti-bullying statutes. ECS State Notes. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/60/41/6041.htm
Education Commission of the States. (2007). High school graduation requirements: P.E./Health. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from http://mb2.ecs.org/reports/Report.aspx?id=903
Furger, R. (2004). A new way of learning. Edutopia. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from www.edutopia.org/new-way-learning
Institute of Medicine. (2006, September). Progress in preventing childhood obesity: How do we measure up? Report Brief. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
McMurrer, J. (2007). Choices, changes, and challenges: Curriculum and instruction in the NCLB era. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Healthy youth!: Coordinated school health program. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from
National Governors Association. (2006, February 25). Creating healthy states: Building healthy schools. Issue Brief. Retrieved September 25, 2007, from www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0602creatinghealthystatesschool.pdf
RMC Research Corporation. (2006). Impacts of service-learning on participating K–12 students. Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. (2003). U.S. teens in our world. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from www.mchb.hrsa.gov/mchirc/_pubs/us_teens
Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2006). Voices of students on engagement: A report of the 2006 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from www.ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/pdf/HSSSE_2006_Report.pdf
Molly McCloskey is a constituent partnerships director at ASCD, and Dan Fuller is ASCD's public policy director.