Questioning Social-Emotional Learning

Why should parents trust PPS to provide effective social-emotional learning (SEL) to students when PPS cannot get students to read and do math at grade level?

At the beginning of March, I watched current PPS board members participate in a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lesson currently taught at PPS. The demo was a lesson from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) that was focused on anger. CASEL is a national purveyor of SEL curriculum. Its business is to “support states, districts, and schools nationwide and convene leading thinkers to ensure SEL is a priority in every school nationwide.” PPS is using CASEL’s curriculum to guide SEL learning in PPS schools. 

According to PDK (Phi Kappa Delta), an international education journal, since the 2015 passage of “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal education law that allows states to use one nonacademic measure for accountability….(CASEL) one of the leading SEL organizations has seized the moment and launched initiatives to push states and districts to adopt.” The article explores the heated debate among educators about the effectiveness of the SEL curriculum.

To measure a school’s SEL climate PPS uses Panorama. Panorama, a Boston-based start-up company launched in 2011 by two Yale undergraduates, received seed funding from Google and the Chan/Zuckerberg Education Foundation. There are student privacy concerns with how Panorama uses this information because our student data is stored in their databases.  

Here are the posted samples of The 5th-grade survey, which has 43 questions, and the middle/high school survey, which has 49 questions. These questions are repetitive and overly focused on finding out what specific vulnerable characteristics students get bullied about. Parents concerned about standardized testing may find many of these survey questions problematic.

If you’re interested in knowing how Panorama rates your school, you can check PPS data on Panorama’s website. One highlight that won’t surprise most parents is that only 51% of elementary students and 21% of middle and high school students find PPS schools engaging. 

The bottom line is SEL is more of an investment opportunity than a proven education strategy.  Since the passage of ESSA, think tanks, philanthropic organizations, and venture-capital firms are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to support and eventually take advantage of SEL implementation opportunities. In 2015, NPR reported that school districts are spending 30 billion dollars a year on SEL. SEL is sponsored by giant corporations. Here are the funders for  CASEL and Panorama

While I believe schools need to provide social and emotional support for our schools, I am concerned that the curriculum is replacing cultural practices, common sense, and competent counselors. The questions the board needs to know are: How much does this curriculum cost? Is it effective?  Is the curriculum more important than providing our elementary and middle school students with engaging electives and extracurricular activities? 

Again, if PPS is failing to teach students to read and do math at grade level, why should parents entrust PPS to provide effective social and emotional learning to our kids? 

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