To the Editor:
The opinion essay “The Deficit Lens of the ‘Achievement Gap’ Needs to Be Flipped. Here’s How” (July 9, 2019) sparks an important discussion on how we measure student achievement. Author Dave Paunesku suggests a paradigm shift that is critical to improving our education system: prioritizing a safe classroom environment, understanding students’ “social contexts,” and focusing on healthy relationships. While Paunesku advocates for an environment that may “foster equitable learning and achievement,” he only offers a few suggestions rather than evidence-based practices on how to create this ideal environment.
A trauma-informed approach shows promise in fixing the problems Paunesku discusses, but is absent in his discussion. Such an approach is a whole-school shift that replaces punitive action with care and understanding to foster trust and other critical elements of healthy relationships between students and teachers. These healthy relationships allow for teachers and students to communicate, for teachers to better assess difficulties within their classroom and school, and for school staff to make an effective plan for students and their school systems.
A trauma-informed approach focuses on deficits in school systems rather than in students. Considering that childhood trauma affects brain development, it is irresponsible to ignore individual learning deficits. However, a trauma-informed approach addresses these opportunity gaps on a systemic level, requiring schoolwide action that improves the learning environment and life outcomes of every student.
The results of trauma-informed care have been promising in the schools that have implemented it in places such as Antioch, Calif., and Walla Walla, Wash. Researchers need to place greater emphasis on approaches to overcome trauma’s effects on students to further understand the roots of the opportunity gap. Educators, administrators, and policymakers should embrace this evidence-based approach to increase individual student opportunity, and subsequently achievement, on a systemic scale.
The Relationship Foundation
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the August 21, 2019 edition of Education Week as The Case for a Trauma-Informed Approach