The inequities of educational outcomes, which in turn lead to inequities in other long-term outcomes, have long been issues of concern for policymakers and educators. For decades, academic programs and policies have been developed to address achievement gaps, yet disparities persist. However, districts and educational policymakers have not fully appreciated how the school environment (a school’s culture, policies, and practices, along with the attitudes of its staff) and the non-school environment differentially affect students’ social and emotional well-being, which in turn contributes to inequities in educational outcomes.
Research in neuroscience has offered important insights into how students’ social and emotional well-being is inextricably linked to learning. Students’ brains are continuously shaped by their environment, and students can better engage in school when their learning environments provide supportive conditions and attend to the needs of the whole child. There is growing recognition that schools must specifically address existing inequities in the provision of supportive learning conditions, particularly for students of color, immigrants, English language learners, and lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer students. District leaders who are making equity a priority are realizing that to create sustainable, system-level change, they need to comprehensively change the way schools interact with students. To do so, district leaders are learning that they should make coordinated changes at three levels: the structural and policy level, the staff level, and the program level.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education and The Education Trust, MDRC’s “Educational Equity: Solutions Through Social and Emotional Well-Being” shares lessons through a series of practitioner briefs. Combining research and interviews with district staff members, the briefs present strategies that education leaders can use to increase equity by building supportive learning environments that aim to meet all students’ social and emotional needs. State departments of education, local districts, and even individual schools could pursue these policies and strategies to move toward better student outcomes for all in the future.