Prioritizing the adoption of evidence-based whole-learner approaches across funding streams that support both early education and K-12 education will not only spur innovation and the adoption of best practices, but also result in greater continuity for learners from early education through K-12.

Incentivize implementation of whole-learner approaches.

Federal education funding represents a powerful lever to promote the adoption of evidence-based whole-learner approaches, but existing funding streams are complex and the resulting incentives are often unclear or contradictory, leading to a misalignment of resources and desired outcomes. Creating a continuum of whole-learner experiences requires greater alignment between early childhood and K-12 systems, including the broader adoption of learner-directed, experiential opportunities that are too often limited to early education settings and phased out as children get older.

Prioritize the implementation and sustainability of evidence-based whole-learner approaches across existing early education and K-12 funding streams.
  • Expand technical assistance, research, and dissemination of best practices through funding increases for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Comprehensive Centers, and Regional Education Labs (RELs) targeted at effective implementation of evidence-based whole-learner approaches;
  • Incentivize collaboration with high-quality partners and intermediary organizations to help educators think critically about how to design educational spaces and curricula, and use existing resources most effectively to advance whole-learner approaches;
  • Shift priorities in major federal education and early education programs to support and incentivize evidence-based whole-learner approaches, including in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)  Title I, Title II, Title III, Title IV-A, Title IV-B, and Head Start; and
  • Create flexibility in existing federal funding streams for programs to implement outcomes-focused innovations.

Reframe the use of assessments.

In today’s education system, assessments are one of the most significant drivers of pedagogy and curriculum. High-quality assessments are critical for understanding and evaluating student achievement and progress; however, assessments that exclusively measure rote information acquisition, retention, and repetition of content knowledge create barriers to—and may undermine—the meaningful and engaging educational experiences that we know are critical to healthy development and learning.

The robust implementation of high-quality whole-learner approaches requires a broader set of assessment tools that measure both the context in which students learn (i.e., environment and measures of student experience) and the breadth of skills students need to grow and thrive, while maintaining rigor and supporting strong accountability systems.

Implement innovative assessments to measure academic achievement, school performance, and more holistic student outcomes that reflect a fuller, more accurate picture of educational success.
  • Fund research and development of valid and reliable whole-learner assessments that will return a more comprehensive and complete picture of student success and incentivize the adoption of whole-learner approaches; and
  • Shift ESEA Title I accountability structures to include whole-learner assessments.

Effectively leverage technology.

Educational technology is a powerful tool for advancing whole-learner approaches by creating customized learning and exploration opportunities for students; providing actionable, individual insights to educators, families, and school partners; supporting data-driven decision-making; and providing critical educational resources in times of national crisis. When done right—by anchoring digital learning experiences in real-life challenges, with effective scaffolding by teachers and family members, and guardrails against inappropriate online content—technology has the potential to support broad skills development and personalize learning, and to enhance children’s developmental well-being.

Intentionally utilize digital assets and technology to support learners, educators, families, and school community partners, and to advance data-driven decision-making.
  • Specific federal funding should be designated to support the integration of durable, equitable, and accessible technology into classroom settings—including physical technological tools and software—and to provide the technical assistance and expertise required to seamlessly and successfully merge these tools into curricula across diverse school ecosystems. Professional development and on-site coaching for educators is essential and must be at the center of technology integration.

Prioritize evidence-based approaches to ensure safe and supportive learning environments.

Healthy learning and development can only take place when students feel safe, secure, and supported. A welcoming school climate, strong relationships with peers and trusted adults, and freedom from fear of violence is as important to learning as well-trained educators and a curriculum grounded in science. In fact, safe and welcoming school environments and healthy developmental relationships are the foundation upon which effective and enduring learning takes place.

Expand the adoption of evidence-based practices to improve school climate, ensure students feel the safety and security necessary for learning to occur, and address the school-based factors that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Embed priorities for the creation of safe and healthy school climates and strong developmental relationships across funding streams; connect schools, districts, and states with high-quality partners working on innovative strategies to improve school safety; and incorporate effective, evidence-based measures of school safety and climate into accountability frameworks.

Prioritizing Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

America Forward Coalition member KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, is a national network of free, open-enrollment college-preparatory public schools that prepare students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. School environment is a key lever in KIPP’s approach to establishing high-quality educational experiences for its students. KIPP strives to provide a safe and nurturing culture; as part of this effort, its teachers utilize a range of strategies (including restorative justice, trust circles, and peer mediators) to help foster a positive school culture.

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