Federal Policy

Two new bills in Congress support social and emotional learning

Both new bills were introduced in the spring of 2017 by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) with bipartisan cosponsorship. H.R. 1864 addresses chronic absenteeism and ways to prevent it. Many states are focusing on chronic absenteeism as one of the indicators of school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). H.R. 2544 looks at ways to reduce teacher stress, an important factor in students’ success.

 

A New National Commission

We support and participate in the National Commission on Academic, Social, and Emotional Development. This important leadership organization, a project of the Aspen Institute, was launched in September 2016. Two of CASEL’s board members are co-chairs of the Commission, and several of our colleagues and collaborators are participants.

 

Federal policies can play a key role in creating conditions that support statewide and districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL).

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): Social and Emotional Learning in the New Federal Education Law

CASEL has joined a growing number of educational organizations across the country in welcoming and applauding the new federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law in December 2015. Particularly important, according to CASEL, are new provisions in the law that support SEL. Although many organizations, including CASEL, are trying to determine the impact of February 2017 actions by Congress and the Department of Education on teacher preparation and accountability regulations in ESSA, the law does include the following:

A broader definition of student success.The new law allows more flexibility to states and local school districts in defining and assessing student success. As part of a state’s newly designed accountability system, at least one additional “nonacademic” indicator of school quality/student success is now allowed. Indicators must be valid, comparable, reliable, and statewide. Student engagement, school climate, and safety, for example, could be among the indicators.

  • Language that encourages schools to “establish learning environments and enhance students’ effective learning skills that are essential for school readiness and academic success.” This language appears in two places: in Title II, referring to funds for professional development for teachers, principals, and other school leaders; and in the new program called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants in Title IV, Part A. This grant program will allow local education agencies to select and implement activities for a variety of uses.

    In Title IV, specific recommendations for “activities to support safe and healthy students.” These include fostering “safe, healthy, supportive, and drug free environments that support student academic achievement,” helping to prevent bullying and harassment, improving “instructional practices for developing relationship-building skills, such as effective communication,” providing “mentoring and school counseling to all students,” and “implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports.”

    A broader approach to professional development and learning. The new law says that professional development must be “sustained (not stand-alone, one-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.”

  • State Planning for ESSA and SEL

    CASEL has published a brief summarizing five key strategies states are using to incorporate SEL into their state plans for ESSA. Watch the webinar discussing the brief. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Aspen Institute released a 2016 framework showing states how to use ESSA to improve equity in opportunities and outcomes. Addressing students’ SEL is one of the eight recommended priorities.

The inclusion of “specialized instructional support personnel” in developing state and district school improvement plans, identifying and supporting students most at risk of school failure, addressing school climate and school safety, and supporting the mental and behavioral health of students.

The School Improvement Program (SIG) and its required interventions are eliminated in the new law. However, beginning in FY2017 states must reserve the greater of: 7% of Title I: Part A funds or the amount the state reserved under Title I-A for school improvement in FY2016 plus the amount the state received under the SIG program for school improvement. ESSA replaces the requirements of the former No Child Left Behind law and allows more leeway to states and school districts in creating their school improvement plans, which can include social and emotional growth as part of a school’s improvement strategies.

A new evidence-based research and innovation program called Education Innovation and Research, similar to the Investing in Innovation program, is established. The program establishes a dedicated funding stream to support the development and scale up of evidence-based practices that encourage innovations in policy and practice.

CASEL will continue to be involved in providing guidance, support, and technical assistance to states and districts across the nation in order to assist with the law’s implementation.

Read the guidelines for Title IV, Part A, published by the Department of Education on Oct. 21, 2016.

Read background information about ESSA here, including the text of the bill, fact sheets, and other materials.