The Need – Realities Before EQ Learning

What cries out for the inclusion of emotional and social learning in every school’s priorities is a combination of scarily negative behaviors on a mass level (click to view) and the school factors detailed below and amplified on the page Hard but Fixable Realities.

The good news regarding this school and societal pain is that many years of research studies reveal that when comprehensively implemented in school cultures, EQ learning (as broadly defined with social skills) has a profound positive effect on even the most troublesome student ills and on student school and life achievement (see The Results: After SEL). Moreover, the societal benefits are incalculable.

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 a 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. By 2017, after intense years of focus on reading, the improvements were flat or “trivial” in almost all states. Many experts believe that disengagement and school “climate” play a major role in these deficiencies in the absence of  comprehensive social-emotional learning, which research shows generally leads to higher academic test scores, much stronger student engagement, and better reading and comprehension abilities.

2015 results for 4th graders reported by the NAEP 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%. 2017 results were no better. Overall, The Nation’s Report Card showed overall only small improvement or stagnation in math and reading scores since 1992, depending on the state surveyed and age group.

The emotional stability needs of 20-plus million American children growing up in poverty or near poverty take major toll on school performance and climate. Meanwhile, the evidence shows that these students (and in fact almost all students) will mostly enjoy far better school and life results when supported to develop strong self-management and relationship skills, which combat the chronic toxic stress many experience in the absence of macro structural and economic changes. In one poverty area of the South embracing Texas and surrounding states, for example, one study found that 48% of African-America students suffered from trauma.

Neuroscience tells us the stress-related hormone cortisol in trauma-identified children 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. Beyond bullying, of course, are school shootings carried out by disaffected students or former students, none of whom have have experienced comprehensive EQ training, which dramatically lowers bullying and school violence rates.   

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.

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Studies suggest that significant academic and achievement gaps between students of color and their white counterparts have much to do with the lack of EQ-raising social-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) has been a mass problem affecting tens of millions of youths (2 million incarcerated yearly), feeding the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Social-emotional learning is sorely needed to provide a positive alternative – particularly those programs that focuses on prevention, self-management and, after disturbing behavior, on such practices as “restorative justice,” which addresses root issues rather than criminalizes behavior.

Slowly improving but still high rates of drug usage among students (see Hard Realities for more information). Improving but still high dropout rates, particularly in low-income areas and among students of color, remain a core issue.


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.

Student disengagement from school is a major issue affecting 40% of high school students and all grades – and aggravated in many schools by diversity 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 EQ programs experience gains in the social and emotional skills that often help to counteract bias and improve relationships between those from different backgrounds. The benefits include less disengagement from learning and improved classroom environments.

50% of high school graduates in a recent survey said there were not prepared for the realities of life itself. Many students graduate without the self-management or goal setting skills – or flexibility – needed to succeed in college or the workforce (82% of employers in one survey said high-school graduates were not ready for the workplace and another survey found college administrators saying more than 50% of HS grads were not prepared for college). 

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-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.

While there’s no such thing as a silver bullet, evidence is accumulating that emotional and social intelligence learning can alter these realities, often dramatically.

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

Check out the evidence at Results After SEL.

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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