When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed last year, it moved authority from the federal government to states and districts. That means states and districts play a key role in implementation. ESSA also includes several opportunities for integrating health and wellness into education policy and practice. For example, states are now required to include a measure of school quality in their state accountability systems and are encouraged to use professional development funding to train school staff on strategies to address chronic absenteeism.
We want to make sure states and districts have a solid plan for making the most of these opportunities. That is why Healthy Schools Campaign partnered with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation earlier this month to bring together more than 50 education leaders from across the country to start developing a framework that states can use to implement ESSA in a way that supports healthy schools and student health. Meeting participants included representatives from national stakeholder organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and state-level partners and advocates from Oregon, Colorado, Illinois and Virginia.
The group’s discussion focused on developing recommendations for states around how health and wellness can be supported through ESSA implementation. Key areas the group discussed included the following:
- State accountability systems: ESSA requires states to include at least one non-academic indicator (a measure of school quality or success) in their state accountability system. Since state accountability systems define the goals and activities of a number of Title I programs, the inclusion of a non-academic indicator in these systems presents an important opportunity to elevate the connection between health and learning. Potential non-academic indicators meeting participants discussed include chronic absenteeism rates, school climate, school connectedness, school discipline and social and emotional learning.
- Needs assessments: ESSA requires school-level needs assessments as a component of a number of programs, including school improvement programming. Ensuring school-level needs assessments include a health and wellness component is a key strategy for better understanding the student health conditions in a given community and identifying areas for improvement in the school health and wellness environment. States can play a key role in providing guidance to school districts on how to conduct needs assessments.
- Equity: ESSA emphasizes the importance of ensuring educational equity for all children. For example, under ESSA, the purpose of Title I is “to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close the academic achievement gaps.” Title II, which addresses professional development, emphasizes the need to improve equitable access to quality teachers, and Title IV highlights the importance of ensuring all students have equitable access to a well-rounded education and school conditions that support student learning. Given the link between health, education and equity, understanding how to incorporate equity into state plans is critical to addressing student health and wellness.
Additional opportunities the group discussed include integrating health and wellness into professional development programming, supporting health and wellness through school improvement programming, ensuring strong support for early childhood education and stakeholder engagement.
Healthy Schools Campaign and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation will be taking the recommendations and feedback shared at this meeting and developing a state framework for implementing ESSA in a way that supports healthy schools and student health. This model will be shared with states across the country, and we plan to work with a handful of states to support implementation of these frameworks. If you’re interested in working with us to support ESSA implementation in your state, please contact Alex Mays.