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Opinion

Embracing the Whole School, Whole Community, and Whole Child:

How State Policy Aligns (or Doesn’t Align) with the WSCC Framework

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The Coordinated School Health Model was recently expanded by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Association for SupervisiWCSSon and Curriculum Development (ASCD) to improve upon the way the model contextualizes young people’s lived experiences— especially those that impact their health and education. Together, they developed the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model, which provides a framework for healthy schools that practitioners and policymakers can use to address individual components of health that together contribute to the overall wellbeing of a young person.  

While adoption of this framework has been promoted and encouraged by the CDC and others, no one had examined how— or if— the different health domains of the WSCC framework were being addressed by state education policy. Our partner Child Trends recognized this gap and began working on an analysis to see how state policy aligns with the WSCC framework. 

On January 31, 2019, Child Trends released an impressive policy analysis examining the representation and coverage of the WSCC framework in state statutes and regulations. The report offers an extensive look at how the framework manifests nationally and includes detailed analyses for every state. 

In an effort to better digest the report and understand its implications, we asked two of the authors, Deborah Temkin and Kristen Harper, to answer some questions for us.

Q: What are the three biggest things you hope people take away from this report?

Child Trends: There are many lessons within the report, which examines over 130 different topics related to healthy schools. That said, there are three main takeaways. 

First, nearly every state has policies to help schools support the whole child. People often assume that state education policy only addresses topics directly related to academics and school governance (e.g., funding formulas, teacher certification, curricular standards for math and reading). However, our analysis shows that such policies address a much broader set of issues – from nutrition, to school discipline, to physical activity, to family engagement and more. States vary considerably in both the extent and approach of their coverage, but there is a broad consensus in current policy that schools have a role in supporting student health. 

That said, there are only ten states that comprehensively cover the WSCC framework, and, even within these states, existing policies are largely fragmented. For example, some states require professional development across eleven different topics related to healthy schools. While this shows great commitment, it may not be useful to schools to provide that much PD without guidance on how these topics are interrelated.

Finally, there are considerable gaps in healthy schools policy. For example, only two states (MS and RI) meaningfully address employee wellness in their codified policies. Other areas are weak but gaining traction: our analysis found that eleven states addressed professional development around trauma as of September 2017, nearly all of which passed such legislation in the past two or three years. 

Q: Not every aspect of the WSCC framework was well covered by statute, which aspect(s) of the WSCC framework do you think needs to be better addressed by legislation?  Why and how?

Child Trends: There is an assumption made when passing policies related to the WSCC: that more statutes and regulations will lead to better outcomes and that policy serves the same function regardless of topic area. We think there is a need to be careful with these assumptions. The potential contribution that policy can make is still an empirical question. 

There are several topics that most states’ policies do not address: employee wellness, restrictions on food for class parties and providing potable water throughout the school day, for example. These are important areas for policymakers to consider, but we think it’s also important for policymakers to consider the full constellation of policies, how they work together, and how they either hinder or support schools’ efforts to create healthy environments. In our companion policy guidance, we stress that it is not enough to simply require school staff to have training on trauma; states also need to consider how other policies – such as exclusionary discipline or those that stigmatize students who cannot pay for school meals – may further traumatize students and undermine efforts to help schools become more trauma-informed. 

Q: As part of this process you consulted key stakeholders from communities across the country. Why was it important to get input from communities on the trauma-informed policy framework that you have designed to help state officials create supportive learning environments? 

Child Trends: This is a great example of a topic where there is not yet enough research to guide policymaking. Nevertheless, we knew that there was both strong policymaker interest in addressing trauma in schools, and early indications that, without guidance, state might begin introducing policies that were disconnected from broad efforts to promote child health and school safety. 

To build our framework, and help states avoid this outcome, we took time to learn from experts that have already spent years working to support schools in creating environments that are safe for children with a history of trauma. We also examined the policy histories of states that have implemented, and strengthened over time, policies meant to encourage a whole-school, whole-child approach. Perhaps most importantly, we wanted broad input on the framework to help prime the field for the broad-based community conversations that we encourage states to convene as they work to review and revise their policies. 

Q: How do you hope a community-based organization (CBO) or a school district could use the information in this report?

Child Trends: This report provides CBOs a detailed snapshot of the policies in the state(s) they are working in. This is incredibly important context to help support work on the ground. For example, a CBO might observe that their state requires community involvement in local school governance. This information could help provide an entry-point for CBOs to begin conversations with school officials to build further partnerships.

Q: The report mentions the need for more exploration of the connection betweean policy and outcomes. For example, there is deep coverage of the WSCC model in some states where we know that there are poor developmental outcomes like high rates of obesity and school disengagement. What next steps do you envision for understanding this connection?

Child Trends: Our analysis was a snapshot of policies enacted at one point in time (as of September 2017). It is likely that many of the policies we identified were passed precisely to address the poor negative outcomes in these states. Further, just because a state has a policy, does not necessarily mean that that policy has been translated down to the district level or implemented at the school level. We have a few next steps. First, we are in the process of coding policies from local education agencies in 20 states (selected based on key developmental outcomes such as obesity, bullying, and chronic absenteeism) to understand the relation between these policies. This analysis is ongoing and should be out later this year. Second, our hope is to be able to continue to look at how policies shift and change over time from this initial baseline and link such changes to changes in outcomes over time.