SEL Develops Workforce Skills

Jul 18, 2017 Issues: Education

As originally published in Education Week: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/07/19/is-social-emotional-learning-a-hoax-readers-respond.html

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has a history of ignoring evidenced-based programs that we know help our children learn, while supporting programs that have zero evidence of their effectiveness and only serve to funnel money away from students. She spent millions peddling vouchers and supporting for-profit colleges and brain-performance psychotherapy without any proof that they help educate our kids. Recently, her pseudoscience has spread to other members of her party.

Last month in the pages of Education Week, former U.S. Department of Education official Chester E. Finn Jr. decided to go beyond supporting lackluster programs and attacked social-emotional-learning initiatives that have been linked to positive outcomes inside and outside the classroom.

A meta-analysis of over 200 studies with almost 300,000 students showed that students who participated in social-emotional-learning programs had an 11 percent gain in academic achievement. More importantly, a bipartisan working group found that social-emotional-learning competencies are needed for students to be successful once they enter the workforce. This is one of the reasons why I have gotten bipartisan support for the Chronic Absenteeism Act and the Teacher Health and Wellness Act, both of which advocate for increased social-emotional learning in American classrooms. SEL does not just make sense for students, it also makes sense for our pocketbooks. Studies show that it has been proven to yield a return of $11 for every $1 spent.

Social-emotional learning is a new framework for tried and true ideas. We know the best teachers are not "great" because they get all their students to pass a test. They are great because they inspire and teach their students to become more socially and self-aware. This awareness of the opportunities that exist across the world and within themselves is an integral part of SEL.

Finn falsely described social-emotional learning as being equivalent to self-esteem. SEL is about focusing on the whole child and teaching our students how to make responsible decisions. It’s about looking at character in addition to content so that the next generation develops skills that can transfer across disciplines. Teachers value social-emotional learning because it allows them to teach students the positive social skills needed to build partnerships. Employers value social-emotional learning because it allows them to hire dynamic problem-solvers and effective communicators needed in today’s fast-paced economy.

There is no doubt that we should be careful not to oversell education research, but we certainly don’t want to deprive our students of resources that could help students realize their full potential.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.