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A Cause for Optimism in Education

A major new report from the Aspen Institute — drawing on research from Professor Stephanie Jones — adds fuel to a growing movement to integrate social, emotional, and academic learning and teach the whole child.

Thirty-five years after A Nation At Risk — a monumental and ultimately divisive report that painted a bleak picture of education in the United States — a more hopeful assessment arrives today in a new report from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. The report, a landmark that draws heavily on research from Professor Stephanie Jones, among other distinguished scientists and educators, asserts that we’ve reached a turning point in our understanding of how people learn and what they need to thrive. We now recognize that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpin children’s academic learning — and the awareness is fueling a growing movement to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.

The Aspen Institute's report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, takes input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators, and policymakers gathered over two years, including from Jones, who served on the national commission and wrote two of the research papers on which the report is based. Illustrating the powerful benefits of an integrated program of social, emotional, and academic learning — focusing on overall wellbeing — the report offers a blueprint for how schools and communities can arrange themseves to act on what we know about how people grow and develop. The report recognizes that putting this new knowledge into practice and helping students develop skills like collaboration, empathy, and perseverance isn't a one-off, but instead that it requires systemic change. It offers specific actions to shift the ways in which we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing, rather than distinct. (Download the executive summary of the new report here [PDF].)

According to Jones, the report emphasizes the creation of systems, settings, and conditions that promote and support learning with principles of human development in mind. "What’s distinct about this report, and this moment, is that the Commission has put together the evidence, the practice, and key policy levers to provide a clear roadmap to action that can shape public education for decades to come," says Jones.

The report seeks to accelerate and strengthen efforts in local communities through the following six broad recommendations:

  • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child. 
  • Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people.  
  • Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills; embed these skills in academics and school-wide practices. 
  • Build adult expertise in child development. 
  • Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child.  
  • Forge closer connections between research and practice to generate useful, actionable information for educators.

For resources, visit You'll find the full report and three complementary reports: a research agenda to support whole-child and adolescent development across learning settings; a practice agenda for how schools and communities can create learning environments that foster the comprehensive development of all young people; and a policy agenda for how communities can generate locally crafted practices that drive more equitable outcomes.  


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