No child without dental care, pre-K …

In rewriting No Child Left Behind, senators want to provide support services to educate the “whole child,” reports Education Week, covering a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

(That could include) dental and mental health, as well as programs aimed at providing prekindergarten and library services, summer and after-school enrichment, mentoring, college counseling, and increased parent and community involvement. The whole-child concept can also refer to making sure schools attend to students’ nonacademic interests, through programs such as the arts and physical education.

Budget-strapped schools would need to hire more staff, acknowledged U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the committee. “As you add all this stuff on, you’re going to have to add more people, mentors, librarians. … How do we do that?”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who was Denver school superintendent, suggested “Congress should start by providing school districts and communities with greater funding flexibility so that they could choose the support services that will be most beneficial.”

The same day, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill requiring all districts and states to report on students’ physical activity and time in P.E. classes. “The bill would finance research to examine how children’s health affects their achievement,” EdWeek reports.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pushing Promise Neighborhoods, a $210 million to plan to create more support services in urban areas modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone.

RAND has different ideas on how to improve No Child Left Behind.  Inside School Research’s Debra Viadero summarizes:

These include: promoting more uniform academic standards and teacher-qualification requirements across states; setting more “appropriate” improvement targets for schools (i.e., ones that give schools credit for students’ academic growth rather than just overall achievement scores); expanding testing and accountability requirements to subjects beyond reading and math; offering incentives for teachers to teach in low-performing schools; and recognizing the “limited benefits” of school choice by focusing on improving all schools while continuing to offer choice.

When I hear “educate the whole child,” I reach for my . . . Well, unlike Goering, I have no gun. Let’s just say, I wonder how the feds are going to provide cradle-to-college care for the poor, the near poor and, inevitably, the not-so-poor while also funding reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and “21st-century skills.” And P.E.

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  1. It’s not just funding. How many school principals have the ability to manage all these services? How many school principals know how to tell if the dentist is any good, or how to supply a dental clinic?

  2. How about before giving the schools extra responsibilites for extra services, we make sure that they’re satisfying their current ones. I see no point in all these extra services if current schools are failing at their most basic job of teaching basic academics.

  3. Last year a woman who runs a program that helps homeless kids in our public school system spoke at our church. They help with school supplies, career-based training for the high schoolers, and have study halls with dinner at some of the hardest hit schools.

    They provide a variety of services and are funded in part through the city but mostly through grants, volunteers, and donations. When she was asked about other issues (clothing, coats, etc) she said that they have referral information for lots of things but that they learned really quickly that you can only do a few things well, so they focused on what they could do uniquely and use other groups/agencies for what they do well. Maybe schools should focus on their mission and be open to others coming in and doing what they do best.

  4. I wonder how the feds are going to provide cradle-to-college care for the poor, the near poor and, inevitably, the not-so-poor while also funding reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and “21st-century skills.” And P.E.

    Very badly, but it will get lots of campaign cash and re-elect the supporters.

  5. stacy,

    a lot of this stuff is already required of teachers. perhaps that’s part of why standards are not being met now, let alone in the future with more non-academic add ons.

  6. Cranberry says:

    So, we’ll end up with the worst case. In order to meet the new reporting requirements, schools will hire more (!) administrative staff. They will gut the teaching staff, and materials budget, to satisfy the politicians’ desire to be benign fathers of the nation’s schoolchildren.

    In order to report on time spent on P.E., they’ll cut music and PE teachers from full time to part time. Class time spent on academic subjects requires teachers, but there’ll be no money left to hire teachers after school districts pay for mental health and dental checkups. A school system of 1,000 students, $100 per student for medical care provided on site, = $100,000, = 2 teachers.

    These are unfunded mandates. Certainly, better health makes it easier to pay attention in class. Schools do badly enough at providing a basic education. Requiring them to provide social services as well will drain the budget for academic services.

  7. Yes, additional mandates may create problems. But the notion that, as Stacy puts it, “extra services” are merely a distraction, especially “schools are failing at their most basic job of teaching basic academics.”

    The fact is that hunger, poor health care, and any number of other problems in poor communities get in the way of schools’ “most basic job.” I’ve seen a number of schools in those communities excel at “their most basic job” in part because they’ve established partnerships with community organizations that attend to those other needs.

    So schools shouldn’t necessarily be loaded with new responsibilities. Better coordination among services that already exist would be a good start. But it seems odd to portray social services as a distraction without considering the very distracting effects of hunger, poor health and other challenges some students face.

  8. Cranberry says:

    Claus, the point is, tasking schools with supplying social services will overwhelm their mission to educate the children. It is easier to prove that each child has seen a dentist than to prove that they can add. It is easier to comply with reporting requirements than to schedule classes. The people running the school have every reason to comply with politician’s legal mandates. It constitutes a dilution of the school’s mission. The schools are already complying with other mandates which have nothing to do with academic skills.

    Every time the politicians come up with a bright idea, it must be implemented at the expense of time in class, on subject. The money for it comes out of the school’s budget, which might be used for, oh, providing lab materials, or a real, live teacher. The administrators’ time is not infinite. All these things have a cost, no matter how worthy they might seem in isolation.

  9. Diana Senechal says:

    Yes, dental, health, and counseling services are too much for most schools to take on (beyond what they already do). On the other hand, these services are essential to students’ well-being and functioning. I would be wary of turning schools into health and social service centers, but why not have such services elsewhere, as Claus suggests? There are two questions here: whether to offer the services to begin with, and whether to house them in the schools.

  10. I think there’s a difference between teaching non-core subjects like art, music, & PE in the schools and expanding their mission to cover things like health care. The former is appropriate while the latter isn’t IMHO. The mission of the schools should be to provide a well-rounded education, and that to me includes instruction in the arts & physical fitness. There’s a long tradition of doing so.

    What is new is the “mission creep” to provide support services that don’t have anything to do with education. Dental and mental health services may be important, but they shouldn’t be the schools’ responsibility.

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    Providing at least basic dental service is not a new idea.

    I grew up on the edge of Des Moines — technically in the city limits, but still essentially rural. And all the kids in my K-6 school got their teeth cleaned twice per year. The city health department had a mobile dental unit (probably several, actually) that showed up for two to three days in the early fall and in the late spring. This system was already in place when I started kindergarten in 1948.

    There was a school nurse for every three schools; she ran the purple light over every kid’s head twice yearly, probably more frequently if she thought necessary, looking for lice, ringworm and the like.

    Similarly, the city library had a mobile book unit that showed up at the school every two weeks. I still have my first library card, issued in 1949.

    Note that these services were provided by the city to the city school system, not by the school system or the individual school. As others have so ably pointed out, the schools have enough to do now — including provision of such essentially social services functions as baby and child-rearing classes for pregnant teens.

  12. Genevieve says:

    I still live in Des Moines and they still have a mobile dental van that comes out to the schools once a year. I don’t think they clean teeth, they just do a basic screening. The Lions club also comes and does eye screenings with the preschoolers.

    I agree that the school should not provide the services. However, it is very useful to have the services come to the school. The children are already there. It is also useful to have community programs in the school (including after-school) and isn’t a significant cost to the district because most of the cleaning is done after-school so the building is open.

    One of the big areas that really effects children’s learning is mental health. If children’s mental health needs were met, I think that schools would improve.
    In our area, a local mental health service center has school based therapists that provide therapy to clients during the day. The biggest problem is finding time for therapy that doesn’t impact learning time. It is also hard to keep qualified staff because the therapist aren’t paid a lot (Masters level therapists that make quite a bit less than the teachers in the building). There have also been troubles with the school district working with the mental health service. I still think it is better than the schools providing the service themselves.

  13. Experience has made me cynical enough to wonder if the “whole child” idea and its attendant services (which I agree should not be provided by the school, but could be located there) is not a deliberate effort to distract attention away from the weak-to-awful academic knowledge and skills that are apparently all the schools can manage to instill, despite decades of increased funding.

  14. claus said…”The fact is that hunger, poor health care, and any number of other problems in poor communities get in the way of schools’ “most basic job.”

    As Joanne as pointed out pretty relentlessly on this blog, there are successful charter schools out there succeeding academically with disadvantaged populations and usually with less funding then their neighboring public schools. Do these schools have all these extra services available to them? No they don’t. Children can achieve even in less than ideal circumstances.

    This “whole child” stuff is just more Randi Weingarten nonsense. The idea is to pull as many of these services into the school for the benefit of PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES AND THE UNIONS.

    I am in favor of disadvantaged kids receiving extra services as long as they’re funded and provided by and at the state and local level minus the UFT.

  15. Isn’t this part of the approach of the Harlem Children’s Zone?

  16. Part of getting a teeth cleaning is giving information to the parent. If the parent isn’t there when the cleaning is done, the dentist can’t talk to the parent and inform them of any problems. Face to face is a very important aspect of getting the point through.

  17. It used to be that a solid education could rescue a child from less than desirable circumstances. Now, we have to rescue the child first in order to give him a good education.

  18. It is a huge task to ask schools to provide for the “whole child,” especially in light of the financial difficulties facing districts. I work with an organization called Boston Connects, based out of Boston College, that tries to fill that void by providing student support in urban Boston public elementary schools. We are currently working in 12 schools to alleviate the barriers to education facing these elementary school children—hunger, homelessness, violence, etc.

    We evaluate and connect every student with a tailored set of prevention, intervention, and enrichment services. Our data show that this approach helps children thrive and improves academic performance.

    Practically speaking, by working within the existing framework of schools and communities, this is a cost-effective, scalable, school-based intervention that efficiently addresses a child’s academic, social-emotional, and physical well-being. This school-university-community partnership allows us to leverage the rich resources of the community without putting the burden totally on schools.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    Good for you. I once did that as one of my part-time jobs in the Army for a while.
    But you miss the point.
    The point is duplication of services, more expenditures, and more can’t-be-fired employees. Your approach is an obstacle.
    If it’s tried, wait ’til some inspector finds asbestos in the drinking water or something.


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