A roadmap for policymakers: a new brief shares lessons about boosting students’ success

A new policy brief, written by our colleagues at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, shares the lessons of City Connects with policymakers, explaining how integrated student support can ignite success even when students face poverty, mental health challenges, traumatic experiences, and other out-of-school burdens.

The brief – “Building Systems of Integrated Student Support A Policy Brief for Local and State Leaders” – explains the problems policymakers face:

“When leaders examine the existing tangle of programs, services, agencies, and funding streams in the context of deep needs among children and persistent academic achievement and opportunity gaps, impactful ways to transform chaotic service delivery systems are often hard to identify and harder to realize.”

Fortunately, over the last fifteen years, “insights from the sciences of child and youth development, experimentation in communities, and mounting outcomes data point to an approach that is producing results: integrated student support.”

The brief was released by both the Center for Optimized Student Support, and by the Center for Promise, which is part of America’s Promise Alliance and housed at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.

One key lesson is understanding the power of community action.

“In order to do this work well and think about integrated student supports for children…we need to understand that schools cannot do it alone,” Margarita Ruiz, the outgoing Superintendent of Salem Public Schools, says. “It’s pivotal to have the support and the engagement and the commitment from the key leaders in the city that have power to effect a good change on behalf of youth in the city.”

Another lesson: “Mounting evidence shows that students who receive effective integrated student support demonstrate:”

• improved attendance, effort, and engagement

• higher academic achievement

• reduced high school dropout rates, and

• better social and emotional outcomes

A third vital lesson: promoting student success is cost effective.

“If effective systems of integrated student support were widely implemented, existing investments in children and families could be producing triple the benefits,” the brief notes.

Add the cost of running City Connects to the costs of the services children and families receive, and for every $1 spent there is a $3 return on investment, according to Columbia University economists.

And while implementing a model like City Connects costs more than delivering services without an integrated model, every additional $1 invested in City Connects produces a $24 return on investment.

The brief also provides recommendations on how local and state policymakers can convert these lessons into action.

Local leaders can:

• adopt “a whole community, whole child approach” that includes articulating a vision for integrated student support, convening stakeholders, and fostering close working relationships between municipal and education leaders

• support school-based coordinators who can facilitate the delivery of services to students

• set up a “municipality-wide infrastructure” of policies, professional development programs, and technological systems that make it easier to coordinate services and service delivery, and

• support the use of data to develop individualized service plans for children and to evaluate the overall impact of the services provided.

State leaders can:

• file legislation that advances integrated student support policies

• support the adoption of evidence-based models

• help effective models of student support grow by:

– providing a framework for integrated student support

– supporting professional development, coaching, and technical assistance for staff

– providing financial support, and

– supporting the development of integrated student support technology system that can collect and analyze data; and

• address barriers to integrating resources by, for example, making it easier to provide health services to students; or by using federal dollars to expand access to afterschool programs.

“The policy options outlined in this brief illuminate opportunities for action right now,” the brief concludes, adding:

“By advancing these policy recommendations, local and state leaders can take pragmatic steps to ensure effective, feasible, cost-efficient approaches to transforming the existing resources of schools and communities into a powerful engine of opportunity for all.”

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