Federal Policy

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. These include:

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.”

  • Framework for States

    In October 2016 the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Aspen Institute released a framework showing states how to use ESSA to improve equity in opportunities and outcomes. Addressing students’ social-emotional learning needs is one of the eight recommended priorities. The framework includes relevant language from ESSA, high-impact state actions, and guiding questions for state leaders.

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.

Other Federal Legislation in Support of SEL

Several other bills introduced in the current Congress support social and emotional learning.

H.R. 497. On January 22, 2015 Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 497, the “Supporting Social and Emotional Learning Act.” This legislation amends the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 to require:

  • The National Center for Education Research to carry out research regarding the impact of social and emotional education.
  • The Commissioner for Education Research to support research into social and emotional skills and habits.
  • Comprehensive centers to provide training, professional development, and technical assistance regarding the use of scientifically valid teaching methods and assessment tools in imparting social and emotional learning.

The act amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require highly qualified teachers to have preparation in the understanding, use, and development of social and emotional learning programming. The act also requires Teacher Quality Partnership grants to be used in preparing prospective and new teachers and principals to understand, use, and develop social and emotional learning programming. It requires centers of excellence to design teacher training programs that promote the understanding, use, and development of social and emotional learning programming. And it requires Teach to Reach grants to be used to train general education teacher candidates to understand, use, and develop social and emotional learning programming.

Download the text of H.R. 497.

  • H.R. 850. On February 10, 2015, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) introduced the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2015, H.R. 850. The bill defines social and emotional learning (SEL) and SEL programming, identifies core areas of social and emotional competency, and amends Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for SEL programming. In addition to Rep. Ryan, Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.), John Yarmouth (D-Ken.), Charlie Rangle (D-N.Y.), James Langevin (D-R.I.), Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Etsy (D-Conn.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Donald Beyer (D-Va.) are co-sponsors of the bill.
    • “Social and emotional competencies aren’t ‘soft skills.’ They are the foundation for all the other skills. If we want a tolerant society, a compassionate society … we need to teach the skills that create that society — the social and emotional.” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

Download the text of H.R. 850 (PDF).
S. 897. This bill, titled the “Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act,” was introduced in the senate on April 13, 2015 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The bill would provide teachers tools and training to support students’ social and emotional learning. It is named in honor of Jesse Lewis, who at six years old was tragically killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are co-sponsors. Specifically, the bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that existing professional development funding could be used to train teachers in concepts related to social and emotional learning.

Download the text of S. 897.