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Social-Emotional Learning Group Releases Guide for Pre-K, Elementary School Programs

Published:  September 27, 2012

Last week the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) released its 2013 guide to preschool and K-5 social and emotional learning programs. The guide is an update of the group’s 2003 report, Safe and Sound: An Education Leader’s Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs

Social-emotional education focuses on helping children learn to regulate their emotions, make good decisions and build productive working relationships with classmates and adults. Character education, the subject of a new book by Paul Tough, overlaps with and complements SEL programs. Research shows social and emotional skills can improve other aspects of children’s lives; according to one study from Loyola University’s psychology department, kids in high-quality social-emotional learning programs experience an average increase in academic achievement of 11 points, compared to peers who are not enrolled in SEL programs. And the CASEL guide comes on the heels of a new report from the National Research Council that links social and emotional development to a better-prepared, better-educated workforce.

With more research available since its last report in 2003, CASEL has refined its definition of social-emotional learning, as well as its guidelines for education leaders. The 2003 CASEL report lumped all K-12 SEL programs together. This year, however, the organization expanded its study to encompass pre-K. The group plans to release a separate guide for grades 6-12 next year.

Additionally, CASEL tightened its standards for high-quality programs. Programs that don’t track students’ progress from year to year through evidence-based studies, don’t provide teachers with adequate professional development and an encouraging school climate or haven’t demonstrated academic and social benefits do not qualify as exemplary programs according to CASEL.

The guide identifies 23 social-emotional programs that meet these standards for high quality.  Three span preschool to elementary school, four are designed for preschool-aged children and the remaining 16 are elementary school programs.  All are evidence-based, and could act as models for schools or school districts working to implement SEL. We’ve written about one of Casel’s high-quality programs, Tools of the Mind. It includes a preschool curriculum centered on “make-believe,” and teaches social and emotional skills through play. (For more on Tools of the Mind, see our earlier posts here and here.)

Despite evidence of effectiveness, social and emotional learning has often taken a backseat to reforms focused more tightly on academic achievement.  Two of the featured speakers at the report’s release event last week on Capitol Hill, Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), discussed their bipartisan efforts to insert the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2011 into the still-unfinished reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind). Rep. Biggert said she now hopes to introduce the SEL bill as a stand-alone measure in the early days of the new session of Congress, which reconvenes in January.

There are major obstacles to working social and emotional learning programs into classrooms, such as expanding access to more children, improving resources for schools and districts to implement such programs, ensuring the programs are high-quality and overcoming a political and policy focus on academics over holistic development. But the research shows – and CASEL’s new report confirms – that SEL programs can be effective in improving children’s academic and behavioral outcomes.

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