Nation is at a Watershed Moment in Understanding How Learning Happens

January 15, 2019

Commission Report Validates a National Movement to Teach “the Whole Child,” with Nearly 100 Organizations Signing on in Support

Contact: Angela Landers
202 813-4901

Washington, D.C., January 15, 2019 — Thirty-five years after “A Nation At Risk” painted a bleak picture of our nation’s education system, a report released today by the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development asserts that our nation is at a turning point: We now understand that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpin children’s academic learning. This breakthrough understanding about how people learn is fueling a growing movement to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.

“From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope” emphasizes that translating this knowledge about how people learn into practice and helping students develop skills like collaboration, empathy, and perseverance requires systemic change. It offers specific actions to fundamentally shift how we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing rather than distinct.

“Integrating social, emotional, and academic learning is the bedrock of an excellent education,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, co-chair of the National Commission and president of the Learning Policy Institute. “This report offers a blueprint for everyone from educators to families to policymakers for building schools and communities that truly reflect what we know about learning.”

Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators, and policymakers, 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.

These recommendations are especially pertinent now, as states and communities leverage their increased authority on education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. With increased local control, parents, teachers, and school leaders are well positioned to create the conditions for schools and local communities to educate the whole child. The report includes specific strategies that schools, districts, and communities can pursue related to each recommendation and examples of places that are engaged in these efforts.

“Many parents worry about their children’s happiness, well-being, and achievement. This report makes it clear that now is the moment when we can—and should—promote all of these dimensions at once and equip kids with an array of skills they need to succeed,” said Timothy Shriver, co-chair of the National Commission and chairman of the Special Olympics. “Given the stressors that many young people are dealing with—especially low-income children who are more likely to face hardships like homelessness and violence—it’s increasingly critical that we ensure students are surrounded by caring adults and a school environment that gives them a sense of purpose, belonging, and inspiration.”

The report also outlines evidence that confirms that supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development has a positive impact on their attendance, test scores, success in college and careers, and overall well-being. It also improves students’ feelings about school and makes schools safer. While a recent survey of high school students across the nation showed that they do not believe they are being sufficiently taught social and emotional skills in school, students, parents, educators, and the business community agree that these skills are vital to success.

“Our nation’s economy and the nature of work are changing, and businesses today need employees who can work well with others, express their ideas clearly, and persevere when they face challenges,” said Jorge L. Benitez, cochair of the National Commission and former CEO of Accenture North America. “An approach to education that instills these skills in our young people is crucial to preparing them for success later in life, and this report makes the case for why and how businesses and others must change and better support this approach.”

What sets “A Nation at Hope” apart from other reports is the groundswell of support that has surged over the course of the Commission’s work and that now supports action across communities following its release. Nearly 100 organizations have signed on in support of the report’s conclusions and recommendations to improve the social, emotional, and academic well-being of each and every child. Organizations including the National Education Association, National PTA, the National Urban League, the National Governors Association, and others are committed to advancing this work as part of an ever-widening coalition. Leaders, educators, researchers, and students will discuss the report and its implications at an event on January 15 in Washington, D.C. A recording of the event along with the report and additional information will be available at


About the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development
The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is engaging and energizing communities to re-envision what constitutes success in our schools. Scientific evidence demonstrates that social, emotional, and academic development are interconnected in the learning process. The Commission is drawing from research and promising practices to explore how to make all these dimensions of learning part of the fabric of every school. To learn more, visit and follow the Commission on Twitter at @AspenSEAD.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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