State and districts face political setback in ‘socio-emotional learning’ | national news


BOISE – For years, Idaho State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and other state leaders have advocated for socio-emotional learning in Idaho schools. It became a central theme of the 2019 Governor’s Task Force “Our Children, The Future of Idaho”. In 2020, Ybarra took on House Republicans for over $ 1 million to train teachers in socio-emotional learning – teaching students the positive attitudes and behaviors that can help them be successful in the classroom and in the world. life.

Now, the State Department of Education is distancing itself from the term “socio-emotional learning,” which has been drawn into the fierce and divisive debate surrounding critical race theory.

“We do not distance ourselves from the concept of SEL and the important work of supporting students,” said SDE spokesperson Kris Rodine. “But the term ‘socio-emotional learning’ has recently been taken over to become a subject of controversy and interpreted to mean something that we do not advocate.”

The SDE will use different terminology, said Rodine, and be explicit about what it advocates: supporting students’ mental and behavioral well-being.

The rhetorical change is subtle, but it has created a pothole in the state’s new roadmap to improve the behavioral well-being of K-12 students and staff. The work plan finalized last month acts on just 10 of the 11 recommendations being considered by the state – it omits a recommendation to adopt a state-wide socio-emotional learning framework, which aimed to unite dispersed efforts at district level.

What is socio-emotional learning?

Socio-emotional learning (SEL) is an academic term widely used to teach children emotional and interpersonal skills, such as mutual respect, goal setting, and recognition of their emotions.

Schools in Idaho and across the country have placed more emphasis on socio-economic learning in recent decades as they seek to support child well-being in a holistic way, not just academically. The idea is that teaching these skills to all students helps them cope with emotional stress, do better in school, avoid risky behavior, and be successful in college and in the workforce. after graduation.

But the term socio-emotional learning has taken on political baggage as activists and conservative politicians confuse it with fears of liberal “indoctrination” of young people in school. And a Thomas Fordham Institute survey indicates the term is just not popular with parents.

Political fury has consequences.

School districts are catching the heat from customers about their efforts. And the state-wide framework, left out of the roadmap, could have helped streamline the districts’ approach to SEL and lead to future expectations regarding the social and emotional skills that children should learn in Idaho schools.

The State dissociates itself from its SEL framework

The SDE convened a group of mental health workers and state educators this spring to analyze how Idaho could better address the mental and behavioral well-being of young people. One of the group’s 11 recommendations was the adoption of a statewide learning framework, through a group called CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning).

Eric Studebaker, SDE’s director for student safety and engagement, wrote in a note to Ybarra that adopting the CASEL framework did not tie the state to a specific learning program or services. It was a way for educators in Idaho to use a common language around what SEL entails. According to CASEL’s definition, these are skills such as self-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

“This kind of framework decision seems fundamental,” the Studebaker note said.

The framework was also a starting point for leaders to match SEL results with the existing skills of Idaho’s colleges and workforce, and potentially set statewide expectations. that students learn social and emotional skills.

States like Nevada and North Dakota have adopted statewide expectations for teachers to use SEL in the classroom, and some districts in Idaho have already used CASEL to create grade standards. school. Currently, it is up to districts in Idaho to decide whether teachers incorporate SEL into classroom instruction.

SDE has decided not to adopt the CASEL framework. Not at the moment anyway.

Studebaker said the department avoided the term “socio-emotional learning.” He pointed to the Fordham poll.

When Fordham asked 2,000 parents across the country if they would enroll students in a social-emotional learning program, parents backed down. However, the majority of parents from both political parties said they supported teaching basic socio-emotional skills to students:

Despite hesitation over time, SDE still intends to support SEL components, Rodine said. This includes helping students develop the skills they need to be successful, resolve conflicts, and cope with adversity. The department also plans to help schools detect when students need help dealing with negative emotions and connect families with support services.

SEL pushback is not new in Idaho, but growing

Anti-SEL rhetoric surfaced at the Idaho Statehouse during the 2020 session. At a meeting of the House Education Committee, members of the Republican Committee suggested that teaching social skills emotional to students was akin to the social control of a dystopian novel, and stated that interpersonal skills should be taught by parents.

“It seems that everything is changing. Now we’re going to take care of the things that should be done at home, and then the home is going to try and teach math, ”said Barbara Ehardt, representative from Idaho Falls.

This criticism has taken off this year.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation argues that SEL is a “vehicle for critical race theory” in schools, and has specifically taken on CASEL to suggest that SEL can create more just and equitable schools. Some schools have taken advantage of aspects of SEL to “tackle broader social justice issues,” according to a report on the CASEL website.

The IFF’s position was echoed by members of the public, who criticized SEL at summer meetings of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s Educational Indoctrination Task Force and at local school board meetings.

For example, Tracey Pearson, candidate for the Nampa school board, criticized both critical race theory and socio-emotional learning at a recent candidate forum.

“I think CRT, SEL, which is socio-emotional learning, diversity, equity: all of this is closely linked. They basically tell children and young adults… that by the color of your skin you are either the oppressed or the oppressor, ”she said.

School districts say they’re sticking with SEL

Socio-emotional learning is nothing new, says Keith Orchard, head of SEL efforts in the Coeur d’Alene School District.

Decades ago, schools taught SEL components as “character traits,” like how to share and be a good teammate, he said. These kinds of classes are still part of Coeur d’Alene’s SEL program, where teachers talk to children about peer pressure, how to make safe choices, and how to manage stress. The lessons, Orchard said, lack any teaching that whites are bad or that all American systems are inherently racist, the central concern of critical critics of racial theory.

“Some have associated SEL with other movements and ideas that concern them, believing SEL to be the ‘code’ for critical race theory,” Orchard wrote in an email. “I think if most people really saw what teachers are doing, they would feel very comfortable with the idea of ​​SEL.

Despite public concerns about the term, Orchard said Coeur d’Alene continues to grow and develop the SEL focus in schools.

The Nampa School District, where school board candidates speak out against SEL, will also stay the course, spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said. Nampa has focused on student mental health and well-being in recent years and adopted the CASEL framework to create school-level expectations for students’ social and emotional development.

The goal of teaching social and emotional skills is to help build students’ mental health, resilience and coping skills in all types of situations, according to the explainers on the Nampa Schools websites.

“As a district, we don’t focus on political agendas,” Tuck wrote.

“… If you speak with parents who have lost children to violence or self-harm, if you speak with parents who have children with eating disorders or depression, you realize that today’s students need help more than ever. “

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