This article is the first in a five-part series of insights from Newark Trust for Education’s Director of P-12 Strategy, Stephanie Parry, on the value of social emotional learning (SEL). 

Contentious rhetoric from a minority of people has put educators and experts on the defense about the long-established benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL). After months of political football on the topic, and with heightened national concern about student well-being and learning loss, it’s time to get back to the discussion about what states, districts, and schools should do to ensure students are developing the competencies necessary to promote learning and development. The Newark Trust has identified four actionable steps in a K-12 Dive article authored by Stephanie Parry that explores how schools can implement SEL with maximum benefit. 

These steps include collaboration with school districts and families to support the facilitation of SEL inside and outside of the classroom. Specifically, districts should put practices in place to support SEL, incorporate families and communities into implementation practices, adopt comprehensive standards, and ensure SEL providers are integrated with unique school environments.  

Recent news reports have reiterated the proven benefits of social emotional skills: they have been shown to improve academic performance by as much as 11 percentile points and are strongly associated with positive youth-related outcomes in the areas of education, employment, criminal activity, and mental health.  

Debates in the media fail to highlight what’s happening on the ground in schools. SEL programs and spending in districts across the country have continued to rise significantly over the past few years. In a report released by the RAND Institute, teachers and principals indicated that the use of a formal SEL program or curricula rose by 25 percent or more from spring 2018 to fall 2021. Another national study, conducted by Tyton Partners, estimates that SEL school and district spending grew approximately 45 percent between November 2019 and April 2021. 

Over the next few weeks, we will provide more information about the deep value of SEL and best practices for school implementation.