The Need – Before SEL

A combination of truly negative results and factors detailed below and on the link above cry out for the inclusion of Social and Emotional Learning in every school’s priorities.

Despite this pain, research studies over many years have found that SEL comprehensively implemented in schools has a major positive effect on the most prominent student and school ills. See “The Results: After SEL” and “Hard but Fixable Realities.”

Continuing poor overall academic achievement compared to other countries alongside a significant achievement gap between students of color and their white counterparts  this after decades of largely failed interventions to address the issue while mostly ignoring the evidence of the academic and life achievement benefits of social and emotional programs.

The Institute for Education Sciences releases an bi-annual report showing student performance in literacy and math as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests. In 2013 65% of all U.S. fourth graders scored ‘below proficient’ on the NAEP reading test, indicating that they were not able to read at grade level. 80% of low-income children were scored below grade level in reading.

2015 results for 4th graders was even slightly worse. The same was true for 12th graders. The percentage of 12th graders performing below “Basic” in math went from 35% in 2013 to 38% in 2015 and in reading it went from 25% to 28%. Overall, The Nation’s Report Card showed overall stagnation or decline in math and reading scores since 1992 depending on the age group.

The emotional stability needs of 20-plus million American children growing up in poverty or near poverty who, the evidence shows, will mostly enjoy far better school and life results when supported to develop strong self-management and relationship skills to combat the chronic toxic stress many experience in the absence of macro structural and economic changes.

Neuroscience tells us the stress hormone cortisol can permanently damage the developing brain while strong attachment to a caring adult and a positive, supportive learning environment can lessen its effects and build resilience.


Bullying, including cyber-bullying, is now considered a significant public health problem and continues to have serious negative effects on students’ mental and physical health. in 2015, 22% of students reported being bullied during the school year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.


Relatedly, rates of depression and anxiety among school children continue to climb. And suicides continue to be a problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.

Studies suggest that significant academic and achievement gaps between students of color and their white counterparts have much to do with the lack of social and emotional learning. These gaps continue after decades of other failed efforts to address these issues while ignoring evidence of the profound benefits to those kids who’ve received such training

Widespread (though starting to decline) use of “zero tolerance” discipline policies which suspend, expel or criminalize many students who commit minor offenses (and drive racial disparities). SEL programs are sorely needed to provide a positive alternative – one that focuses on prevention, self-management and such practices as “restorative justice” that address root issues rather than criminalize behavior.

Slowly improving but still high rates of drug usage among students (click on Hard Realities below for more information). Improving but still high dropout rates, particularly in low-income areas and among students of color.


Extremely high rates of harassment and violence carried out by students against teachers, according to a study by the American Psychological Association Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers Task Force. This compounded by other disruptive classroom behaviors.


Diversity issues as U.S. demographics continue to shift, presenting obvious challenges to the largely white, female teaching workforce via language and cultural differences. Teachers and students who participate in SEL programs experience gains in the social and emotional skills that often help to counteract bias and improve relationships between those from different backgrounds.

The many students who graduate without the self-management or goal setting skills – or flexibility – needed to succeed in college or the workforce.




High rates of Attention Deficit Disorder. According to the Center for Disease Control, an astounding 15% of all school-age boys have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and 7% of all school-age girls – for a total of 11% of all school-aged U.S. children. 19% of high school-age boys – ages 14 to 17 – and 10% of girls have been so diagnosed. Too often those diagnosed were prescribed Ritalin or Adderall, drugs that can help patients and can also cause addiction, anxiety and psychosis. Social and Emotional Learning generally includes mindfullness training, which studies show can mitigate ADHD behavior, increase engaged attention and uplevel school performance and brain functioning . Click for research data.

Kids need to learn how to respect each other, and a lot of kids don’t have the support they need at home.” Day, whose children attend Kirkwood, adds that she is “one of those parents who believes that it all starts at home, and we need to get parents involved with building social skills. But it doesn’t always work out that way. That’s why we’re glad our kids are getting these skills at school.

tribal organization parent leader Laura Day

While there’s no such thing as a silver bullet, evidence is accumulating that Social and Emotional Learning can alter these realities, often dramatically.

SEL can contribute to creating more supportive, welcoming  schools where students experience greater well-being, are less violent, have stronger academic performance and lower negative markers across the board. 

According to educators in many SEL-oriented schools, backed up by research studies, students in SEL-equipped schools tend to focus better, think more coherently and widely, be more creative individually and in groups, get along far better with peers and staff, and enjoy the overall school experience. 

Check out the evidence at Results After SEL.

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