National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports

Equity of opportunity is fundamental to enabling civil rights;
transforming student and learning supports is fundamental to
      promoting whole child development, advancing social justice,
    and enhancing learning and a positive school climate.



As part of the National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports, our Center has a constant focus on improving student/learning supports.

Our latest aid is a brief guide for improving student and learning supports

Student/Learning Supports:
A Brief Guide for Moving in New Directions


The COVID-19 pandemic has made it inevitable that public schools will change in fundamental ways over the next few years. This is particularly the reality for how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and for efforts to reengage disconnected students and families.

Certainly the pandemic has increased the numbers experiencing learning, behavior, and emotional problems and increased the need for student and learning supports. However, it is widely acknowledged that student/learning supports have long been marginalized in school improvement policy and practice. As a result, such supports are developed in an ad hoc and piecemeal manner. Implementation is fragmented and at times redundant. Those involved often are counterproductively competitive, especially when funding is sparse (and when isn't it?).

For many years, we have received a steady stream of frustrated comments about the situation at schools related to all this. And the situation has been exacerbated as a result of COVID-19. (Considerable concern has been expressed about the capability of schools to deal with the increasing number of students with learning, behavior, and emotional problems.)

We know that folks have to address immediate problems as best they can (and will continue to be frustrated, upset, and overwhelmed).

Given the constant demand to respond to pressing problems, the primary tendency has been to argue for hiring more staff. And clearly some of the temporary relief funds are being used to add some student/learning support personnel. However, it is also evident that when the relief funds end most schools will not have sufficient funds to maintain the added personnel.

The bottom line: Schools cannot continue to spend all the time of student and learning support staff responding to the culture of crisis that dominates efforts to address barriers to teaching and learning and reengage disconnected students and their families. To do so means maintaining the marginalization, fragmentation, counterproductive competition, redundancy, and limited outcomes that characterize most schools' approach to providing student and learning supports efforts.

All this needs to change. Yet, most of the widely circulated reports about improving schools pay scant attention to these concerns. And while the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers opportunities for change, it also continues the piecemeal approach to addressing barriers to learning and teaching and reengaging disconnected students and families.

Direct actions for fundamental systemic changes are needed, To these ends, the National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports was inaugurated in 2015. (Groundwork was laid by the earlier initiative for New Directions for Student and Learning Supports.)

The aims of this ongoing initiative are to mobilize direct actions for

    • Elevating school improvement policy discussion about ending the marginalization
      of student and learning supports
    • Moving toward transformation of such supports.

The number of inquiries to our Center related to the National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports underscore the reality that the time has come to make transformative changes in how schools address students experiencing learning, behavior, and emotional problems. Increasingly we are being asked about how to move forward and for assistance in doing so.

The challenge at this time is to escape old ways of thinking about these matters.
New directions are essential.


We stress that moving forward involves

    • rethinking student and learning supports and the roles and functions of staff providing such supports

    • approaching learning, behavior, and emotional problems as interrelated concerns

    • using an umbrella concept, such as addressing barriers to learning, to unify the laundry list of programs and initiatives currently being implemented for that purpose (e.g., MTSS, Community Schools, integrated services, social emotional learning as a response to problems, response to intervention, trauma informed practices, suicide and substance use prevention, crisis response, special efforts to close the opportunity and achievement gaps, etc., etc., etc....).

    • adopting a design and a multiyear strategic plan for developing the unified component into a comprehensive and equitable system of student/learning supports.

Here are some first steps that can be taken to improve student/learning supports at school, district, regional, state, and even federal levels.

(1) Establish a Learning Supports Leadership Team (See What is a learning supports leadership team? ) This prototype can be adapted to fit current settings and situations.

(2) Have the team
    (a) map existing resources for addressing barriers to learning and teaching and renegaging disconnected students(see Mapping & Analyzing Learning Supports
and An Aid for Initial Listing of Current Resources Used at a School for Addressing Barriers Learning and Teaching )

   (b) analyze what's working, what needs strengthening, and critical gaps

   (c) develop a set of prioritized recommendations for moving toward a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system of student/learning supports

   (d) present the recommendations for approval.

(3) As soon as a set of proposed improvements are approved, establish a workgroup to develop a strategic action plan that details the who, what, and when of the steps forward.

(4) Assign the Learning Supports Leadership Team to guide implementation of the strategic plan.


Some General Resources from the Center to Aid in Moving Forward

>Embedding Mental Health as Schools Change

>Addressing Barriers to Learning: In the Classroom and Schoolwide

>Improving School Improvement

>We won't Argue Against Adding More Counselors,
BUT ...
Addressing Student Mental Health Concerns Involves Much More than Increasing the Number of Mental Health Providers

2021-22: Addressing Learning, Behavior, and Emotional Problems Through Better Use of Student and Learning Support Staff

Evolving Community Schools and Transforming Student/Learning Supports

A host of other free resources to aid in the transformation process are available on the Center's website -- for example, the System Change Toolkit

And we offer free technical assistance and coaching if you need it -- see


Wide ranging outreach has been made to stakeholders concerned about school improvement, especially those focusing on enhancing equity of opportunity for students to succeed at school and beyond. Over 2019 and early 2020, special, but not exclusive, attention was on contacting key legislators in every state about reframing school improvement policy to move from a two to a three component framework.

Work on Clarifying the Need and Delineating New Directions

In addition to other works cited here and elsewhere, the initiative has provided analyses underscoring the need for transformation and has developed prototypes for new directions. See, for example, the following:
The work also has been presented at professional conferences and workshops, integrated into the curriculum of pre-service and inservice courses, featured in textbooks and reports for school improvement. Exhibit 1 highlights a few examples.

Stimulating Pioneering and Trailblazing Activity

Across the country state departments, districts, and schools have explored new directions for providing student/learning supports. The pioneering and trailblazing efforts have helped clarify the type of systemic changes that are required to succeed. They reflect "out-of-the-box thinking."

The various efforts have highlighted four key and interacting considerations that must be the focus of new directions thinking. First and foremost, they point to the need to

    • Revisit school improvement policies in order to expand them in ways that will end the marginalization of student/learning supports

    • Adopt intervention frameworks that unify and guide development of a comprehensive, equitable, and systemic learning supports component at every school

    • Rework the infrastructure at school, complex, and district levels to ensure effective leadership, redefine roles and functions, and establish resource oriented mechanisms

    • Develop strategic approaches to enable effective and sustainable systemic change and replication to scale

Early in the initiative, Scholastic, Inc. reached out to enter into a collaboration with our Center at UCLA to move the work forward. Exhibit 2 notes what Scholastic reports about the trailblazers. For more on the Center's collaboration with Scholastic, see

    At the end of 2020, we were invited by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) to prepare the following policy brief: (The content, of course, is applicable to other states.)     

    Restructuring California Schools to Address Barriers to Learning and Teaching in the COVID 19 Context and Beyond

    In May 2021, we issued a report on Implementation Science and Complex School Changes  
      We stressed: As schools reopen after the COVID 19 disruption, system change is the order of the day. A particular concern is for addressing the needs of an increased number of students manifesting behavior, learning, and emotional problems. Appropriate and effective handling of these students will require a major transformation in how student and learning supports are provided. Attaining more than cosmetic changes will require understanding how major systemic changes are accomplished and how to deal with the inevitable challenges that arise. In this report, we outline what we have learned and formulated conceptually and in practice about pursuing multifaceted and complex changes in school systems. We offer specific examples from our work to illustrate lessons learned in making substantive and sustainable changes in organizations such as a school system.

    In July 2021, we issued a report on Evolving Community Schools and Transforming Student/Learning Supports

    Taken as a whole, the initiative offers a detailed blueprint for how student/learning supports can be transformed, resources to make it happen, and invaluable examples and lessons learned to aid moving forward. See 

                          A Call to Action – Anyone Can Play a Role

Growing awareness and blueprints for new directions, makes this year an advantageous time for action by everyone concerned about ending the marginalization of student/learning supports.
See "Call to action"