As every parent, caregiver, and educator knows, no two children are the same, so an education system that homogenizes educational approaches, silos different domains of development, and adheres to narrow definitions of academic success and attainment simply doesn’t make sense.
Creating and sustaining conditions where every child is able to grow, thrive, and succeed—in keeping with their own strengths and interests—requires an education system that closes the gap between what we know and what we do.
Together, federal policymakers—in partnership with state and local leaders, high-quality partners, educators, and families—can advance evidence-based whole-learner approaches that channel the science of learning and development to make progress toward providing every student with the engaging, meaningful learning experiences that will enable them to realize their full potential and contribute to their communities.
In the policy recommendations that follow, we propose a roadmap for federal policymakers to achieve a bold vision that:
- Reimagines and supports the remodeling of our education system. Preparing every individual learner to thrive in school and beyond requires an education system that takes a holistic view of learning and prioritizes the development of a breadth of skills, built on a foundation of safe environments and healthy developmental relationships. Achieving that vision means redefining the goal of our education system to prioritize positive outcomes for all students. Federal policies, resources, and tools must align to support whole-learner approaches.
- Supports transformative educators. Teachers, school leaders, and school staff play a critical role in students’ ability to succeed in school. In order to effectively develop and implement whole-learner approaches, educators and staff need strong, ongoing support to understand and adopt new pedagogies; time to think critically about their own educational practice; and evaluation structures that allow for innovation and differentiated instruction. State and federal policymakers should fully engage and leverage the expertise of teachers, school leaders, and staff in the creation of policies that support the design and adoption of effective, culturally competent whole-learner approaches, and should provide robust support to educators already working to implement these approaches.
- Effectively engages families. Research highlights the critical importance of child-caregiver interactions in fostering optimal learning and development throughout all critical periods of growth.15 As the primary caregivers of their children, families play a uniquely important role in fostering and supporting healthy, holistic learning and development. Achieving positive outcomes for all children requires that families and caregivers are supported. Federal policy should incentivize and support programs that engage parents and caregivers as partners in the development and support of whole-learner approaches.
- Fosters successful systems through effective partnerships. High-quality partners play an essential role in providing the capacity and expertise to support educators and help implement whole-learner approaches. The federal government should catalyze and incentivize innovative partnerships between states, districts, schools, and nonprofit organizations that prioritize the effective scaling of comprehensive, evidence-based whole-learner approaches.
- Leverages science and evidence. There is so much yet to be uncovered in the ways we can more effectively and accurately measure outcomes for students; support educators, families, and the public in shifting mindsets on holistic development and learning; and inform continuous improvement of whole-learner approaches. The federal government must play a role in rewarding evidence-based approaches and spurring innovation that reveals the best ways to measure and scale the impact of whole-learner approaches.
15 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). 8 Things to Remember about Child Development. Retrieved from