A new article: pandemic recovery and integrated student support

As the country steers through the pandemic, successfully rebuilding schools is essential. Students, families, teachers, and school staff members have spent more than a year dealing with the chronic physical and emotional challenges of pandemic life, from losing contact with friends to losing jobs to losing loved ones.

A new article published by the Washington, D.C., think tank Brookings explains how schools can meet these needs by becoming more powerful and effective.

K-12 schools can, the article explains, use more than $190 billion in federal relief funding to “transform the hodgepodge of services and programs available to students into powerful systems of learning and opportunity.”

The article’s co-authors are Joan Wasser Gish, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, home to City Connects, and Brooks Bowden, a University of Pennsylvania Professor and the Director of the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education (CBCSE).

The outcomes of providing evidence-based integrated student support are impressive. Student attendance and achievement improve. Schools are using the model to navigate the pandemic. And as the article notes, CBCSE has studied City Connects and found a substantial return on investment.

“…for every dollar invested in City Connects and the services and resources to which students and families are connected, there is a return to society of $3. The cost estimate includes all ingredients allocated either directly or indirectly due to City Connects, and the returns reflect earnings, health, crime, and welfare improvements due to increased high school graduation and academic achievement.”

This estimate is conservative because it includes the costs of external community services, but it does not include the positive benefits for families and teachers and for students’ social-emotional development.

City Connects’ model of integrated student support is working well in a number of cities and states.

“In Ohio, schools in Columbus, Dayton, and Springfield are implementing evidence-based approaches to integrated student support. In Massachusetts, the school districts of Salem and Springfield use City Connects districtwide.” City Connects is also being used by schools in Boston, Lynn, and Everett.

In addition, “A dozen communities are part of a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education district learning network working toward implementing best practices for integrated student support.”

These schools “are making small changes to student-support personnel roles, modifying student-support team meetings, and using technology—rudimentary or sophisticated—to enable more effective practices that can last beyond the stimulus funding.”

These “small investments in professional development and systems infrastructure” will help make “large investments in education and comprehensive services” more effective.

Other organizations and policy leaders, the article notes, are also advancing integrated student support strategies.

Community schools include integrated student support as a necessary and powerful component, and President Biden has proposed increasing federal investment in the Full Service Community Schools Program. Integrated student support is a core part of what programs like Building Assets Reducing Risks and Communities In Schools provide. Spanning the political divides, 13 states and Congress are at some stage of policymaking to advance integrated student support.”

This national activity is paving a welcome path. As the article explains:

“Now, as the nation begins to emerge from the pandemic, policymakers and education leaders have resources and a roadmap that shows small investments in systems of integrated student support can yield big gains, providing a pragmatic and promising path to recovery.” 

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