Students at the Center

Students at the Center

Engaging All Students for College, Career, and Civic Success

Using effective, student-centered approaches to engage every student regardless of skill level and prepare them for college, career, and civic success.

Rebecca E. Wolfe
Associate Vice President
617.728.4446 x226


Student-centered approaches to learning are drawn from the mind/brain sciences, learning theory, and research on youth development, and are essential to students’ full engagement in achieving deeper learning outcomes.

The four principles of student-centered approaches to learning challenge the current schooling and education paradigm:

  1. Learning is personalized
  2. Learning is competency based
  3. Learning takes place anytime, anywhere
  4. Students exert ownership over their learning

Effective student-centered approaches propel students toward achieving the six elements of deeper learning that lead to college, career, and civic success:

  1. Master core academic content
  2. Think critically and solve complex problems
  3. Work collaboratively
  4. Communicate effectively
  5. Learn how to learn
  6. Develop academic mindsets

In an increasingly interconnected and fast-changing world, our educational system must provide all young people with the sorts of high-level learning opportunities that used to be reserved for a privileged few. That premise has fueled more than three decades of efforts to improve the performance of our nation’s schools. However, for all of the ways in which reformers have shaken up the world of K-12 education in recent years, the heart of the enterprise— teaching and learning—has changed very little in most schools and for most children. 

And as a result, the leading approaches to educational reform have largely failed to boost educational achievement across the U.S., or to close the resource gaps that divide our communities.


Students at the Center provides educators with tools, information, and support that can help them not just to set ambitious goals for student learning but, even more important, to make real improvements to teaching practices and the school and district policies that affect them, so that all students—with a special focus on underserved youth—have concrete opportunities to acquire the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed for success in college, in the workforce, and in civic life.

JFF widely disseminates the work of the Students at the Center initiative by way of conferences, social and mainstream media, publications, professional development, and outreach to educational associations. Along with our school, policy, and industry partners, JFF also develops online tools, policy briefs, professional development, and other resources to help implement student-centered approaches. 

Students at the Center uses its framework, resources, and expertise to directly support states, districts, and community colleges implementing student-centered approaches that increase deeper learning outcomes for low-income and marginalized populations.

In 2016, JFF launched the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind initiative that will build, define, apply, and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning. Its goal is to better understand, use, and share student-centered approaches so that we can raise academic achievement, enhance college and career readiness, and elevate equity in and beyond today’s schools. Subscribe to learn more.

Students at the Center continues to expand and deepen the knowledge base for student-centered approaches and deeper learning outcomes and adapts the research for practice and policy. In doing so, we enable school leaders, teachers, thought leaders, and policymakers to take transformative action that helps solve persistent problems in U.S. education.

Students at the Center’s accomplishments include:

  • Building a foundational knowledge base—with educators and researcher—for student-centered approaches. JFF launched this initiative by commissioning nine distinguished research teams to synthesize existing research on the science of learning, applications of student-centered approaches, and taking the practices to scale.  

  • Let's Get Real

    Let’s Get Real: Deeper Learning and the Power of the Workplace

    Educators today assert that “college and career readiness” should be the goal for every high school student, but “career readiness” is too often an empty tagline. What does it mean to be ready for a career? In this paper, Nancy Hoffman argues that, in a period when very few teens have access to jobs, high school experience must incorporate gradual exposure to the workplace. Learning to work and learning about work are major milestones for adolescent social and cognitive development. If deeper learning is the end, then work is a powerful means. The United States needs to make visible the strong models of high schools incorporating work-based learning, and establish policies at the state leve and federal levels to scale and support them.

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  • Rethinking Readiness: Deeper Learning for College, Work, and Life

    Rethinking Readiness offers a provocative look at how high schools can help students develop far more than academic skills and content knowledge to become truly prepared for college, careers, and civic life. The edited volume contains chapters by some of the nation’s most well-respected education scholars, who explore the implications for schools, teachers, and district leaders of replacing the narrow learning goals of No Child Left Behind. As state leaders chart a new course for K–12 education in the Every Student Succeeds Act era, Rethinking Readiness offers a succinct and compelling vision for a new agenda for school reform so future generations can prosper in a rapidly changing world.


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  • Advancing Deeper Learning Under ESSA: Seven Priorities

    This brief recommends seven ways for supporters of deeper learning to take advantage of the changing education policy landscape, as authority shifts from the federal government to states and local districts. The authors outline priorities to help the nation’s high schools move from a largely inequitable system to one that prepares all students for college and careers, with the full range of academic, personal, and social skills needed for life success. 

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