Why would parents and teachers, tired of high-stakes testing in their public schools, wish to sign onto more assessment that tests, tracks, and profiles their child’s behavior online?
Good teachers have always built social skills into their classes. Helping children behave and work with each other is second nature to teaching. One can find nice social-emotional learning (SEL) activities.
But now states are setting up SEL standards about what children should think and feel. How does one standardize such things?
I originally noted that @SEL4MA has lovely activities for children. They do. As I look at Twitter now, I see terrific book titles for children and a lovely quote from Mister Rogers, whose upcoming movie I noted on Twitter yesterday.
But I have been informed that they have a dark side of their own. Their website describes their endorsement of Social Impact Bonds and Pay for Success. One teacher told me they are “like stalkers” with many for-profit partners and enablers. This is troubling. It is also deceptive. It’s easy to see how one can be sucked into the nice activities for children, without realizing what this organization is truly advocating.
Here are the concerns about SEL in general.
SEL is ill-defined, unproven and still connected to Common Core.
There’s a mish-mash of psycho-social, neuroscience talk, and programs are not always well-explained to parents, or well-understood. SEL covers so much.
“Core” is used often, because SEL is connected to Common Core.
Where’s the research? The reliance of support is on a 2011 Meta-analysis of eight studies showing students do better academically with SEL activities, but there’s nothing to support the pervasive dominance of SEL assessment in schools.
SEL standards involve too much introspection for children.
As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Illinois SEL Standards have been praised for being the first state SEL standards. Some goals sound decent. But forcing children to reflect so much on their actions, thoughts, and feelings is obsessive.
Here’s a sampling of what children are to do:
- recognize and label their emotions,
- identify family strengths,
- record their emotional behavior changes as they transition throughout the day,
- recognize how others have contributed to their achievement,
- remember to use “I” when speaking,
and much more.
If SEL seems like character education it’s because it is.
SEL involves grit, soft skills, or character education.
Character education has always been controversial. Both religious and non-religious parents often resent it.
Even Angela Duckworth, the “grit” queen, grew concerned about measuring character traits, calling it a “bad idea.”
SEL and psychological profiling.
SEL assessments for parents, children, and teachers ask personal questions. What right do adults have to scrutinize a child’s thoughts and feelings for data? These aren’t merely interest inventories.
The assessments seem designed for school psychologists for when children have difficulties in school. Why do all children require such serious assessment? Most children come to school ready to learn and without major behavioral problems.
- Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, Second Edition (For PreK).
- Devereux Student Strengths Assessment
- Social-Emotional Assets and Resilience Scale (SEARS)
- Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales
- Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale
Tracking children’s behavior with SEL
What happens if the student has a bad year? What if their parents divorce in 5th grade and they have problems then, but they’ve adjusted by 8th grade? Will their behavior from 5th grade haunt them forever? Where will that information be when the student applies for college?
There was a reason schools kept a student’s record in a locked filing cabinet.
SEL’s emphasis on self-control.
SEL involves an emphasis on self-control. How much self-control is too much? Is developmental age considered? Certain behaviors are normal for young children.
SEL and students with disabilities and gifted students.
How will learning difficulties of students with disabilities be reflected in the assessments? Students with autism and gifted students, for example, might start out with problematic behavior in school, but make great gains.
SEL and student trauma.
Children experiencing trauma, or problems that cause them difficulties in school, need counselors, school psychologists, and social workers to address their needs.
SEL and technology.
Many worry that in order for technology to work without teachers, children need to be better behaved and teach each other. Is that why SEL has become so important?
Technology is also be used to monitor and teach the SEL behaviors.
SEL’s increasing focus on mindfulness.
Some meditation might be calming. Too much should raise concerns.
Ingrid Wickelgren, wrote in Scientific American, “How Social and Emotional Learning Could Harm Our Kids.” She is critical of MindUP, a Buddhist-style mindfulness program focusing on pleasurable feelings. The program is by actor Goldie Hawn.
Non-judgmental awareness might cause a child to be unable to determine between right and wrong. They might accept life’s difficulties instead of rejecting problems.
SEL and mental health.
SEL is about specifically monitoring the emotional behavior of all children.
If teachers focus on an abundance of data on every child, they might miss, or have little time, to address the child who really has problems.
SEL is about raising test scores.
Most of what SEL advocates, involves the goal of getting children to improve their behavior so they will do better on high-stakes academic testing. This seems disingenuous.
SEL and Social Impact Bonds and Pay for Success
School districts are encouraged to use SIBs or Pay for Success to fund programs. Schools get money for students based on their social and emotional skills. Upon student improvement, companies get back their contribution with a profit.
For example, SEL is listed in the U.S. Department of Education (DeVos) Pay for Success Feasibility Tool Kit: Considerations for State and Local Leaders to increase kindergarten readiness (p.6).
SEL is a field day for nonprofits.
There’s a glut of groups setting up unproven businesses promising to address SEL in schools. It’s an unaccountable moneymaker.
Here the nonprofit Playworks (I’ve written about them before) jumps on the SEL bandwagon. They advertise recess. But this is not recess. It’s organized play by adults. It’s privatization of P.E.
Why does recess have to be outsourced anyway?
SEL is insulting to parents.
Most parents teach their children well when it comes to behavior. Children come to school curious and eager to learn and they have good behavior.
Why are scholars and politicians making it seem otherwise?
Childhood should be a carefree time, where children learn and play in ways that are developmentally appropriate.
Also, parents and teachers are tired of academic standards like Common Core and high-stakes testing. Trying to increase high-stakes standards involving a child’s feelings seems not only ill-advised but dubious.
Nancy Bailey. “New Social Emotional Standards to Complement Common Core.” Nancy Bailey’s Education Website. August 6, 2016.
Jane Robbins “The Latest Big Education Fad, Social Emotional Learning, Is As Bad As It Sounds.” Townhall. August 8, 2016.
Kathleen Casper. “Danger in a Can: Why Canned Social-Emotional Skills Programs in Schools Can Harm Gifted Students More Than Help Them.” Jan. 26, 2017.
Emily Talmage. “The Real Reason Your Child is being Psychologically Profiled at School.” Save Maine Schools. July 14, 2017.
Larry Ferlazzo. “Let Them Eat Character.” Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day….” February 16, 2017.