Students at the Center


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

To prepare the U.S. workforce to compete in an increasingly global and fast-changing world, our educational system needs a transformation that will enable all students to attain the 21st-century skills, knowledge, and dispositions that can ensure college, career, and civic success. Despite unprecedented attention to improving schools, the United States faces continuing failures to significantly raise educational achievement and attainment levels—or to close persistent race and income gaps.

The nation should maintain an unwavering commitment to ambitious learning standards geared to today’s educational and economic challenges, such as those laid out by the Common Core State Standards. To enable students to meet the higher expectations that current economic and social realities demand, we must stop conducting business as usual in the classroom.

Students at the Center is building the knowledge base for student-centered approaches to learning that lead to deeper learning outcomes and is supporting the spread of these practices and policy across the country. Our goal is to strengthen the ability of practitioners and policymakers to motivate every student—with a special focus on underserved youth—to acquire the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed for success in college, career and civic life.

Student-centered approaches to learning are both central to, and emerge from, JFF’s Early College Designs, including Back on Track Designs—and are related to innovative work in school districts nationwide.

JFF disseminates our findings widely through conferences, social and mainstream media, publications, professional development, and educational associations. Working with educators, we develop online tools and other resources to help practitioners implement student-centered approaches in classrooms, schools, districts, or beyond. We consult with policymakers, associations, industries, and education leaders—and produce research and products—to support their efforts moving the agenda forward.

JFF also recently announced a first-of-its-kind initiative that will build, define, apply, and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning, the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative. 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, or submit an RFP.

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.  

  • Publishing Anytime, Anywhere: Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers. Edited by JFF’s Rebecca E. WolfeAdria Steinberg, and Nancy Hoffman, this book synthesizes research and practices in the emerging field of student-centered learning and includes profiles of schools that have embraced this approach.
  • Developing online tools and other resources to make this research applicable to practitioners. 
  • Organizing a nationwide symposium “Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core” that brought together over 150 researchers, practitioners, thought leaders, policymakers, and funders to explore implications of the initiative’s research findings and generate ideas for future efforts
  • Publishing a major research series, this time focused on exploring the six deeper learning outcomes. 
  • 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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