Chicago Public Schools is deeply committed to the mission of the CDI and has worked in partnership with CASEL for nearly 20 years to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in its schools. District leaders have advocated for SEL as a framework for improving school climate, mental health services, discipline practices, and academic engagement. Despite the challenges of changing policy and practice in a large and diverse urban district, CPS has sustained and deepened support for SEL. This trend has accelerated since 2012, thanks to its involvement in the CDI.
SEL in Chicago
SEL skills instruction. CPS has made significant progress toward expanding implementation of evidence-based programming for SEL across its many diverse schools. Two hundred sixty-nine schools are implementing evidence-based programs to explicitly teach social and emotional skills, including Second Step, PATHS, Caring School Community, Responsive Classroom, and the Leader in Me. The majority of these are elementary schools, but the district is supporting new approaches to SEL in secondary schools, including partnerships with Developmental Designs and Engaging Schools. High school students gain exposure to SEL through a focus on culture, school climate, and building relationships. SEL is incorporated into some curriculum content—for example, social studies and health.
Meanwhile, the district’s strategic plan for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support expects that all schools will adopt a systematic approach to ensure that all students develop the competencies outlined in the Illinois SEL Standards within a supportive school and classroom climate that includes adult modeling, effective discipline, and integrated instruction.
Resource alignment. CPS has devoted considerable resources to support implementation of best practices for SEL. The CPS Office of Social and Emotional Learning (OSEL) includes 34 talented, committed staff members. Despite overall budget reductions throughout the district, the SEL office received approval to hire 14 new SEL Specialists in 2014. Each is assigned to one of CPS’ geographical networks and supports 30-50 schools. As a result of this strategic investment, CPS now can provide customized, onsite support for SEL, and Chief Network Officers report that the SEL Specialists are valued members of their teams. Rather than requesting human resources to support an isolated initiative, OSEL has secured several million dollars in grant funds for SEL over the past three years.
Integration. The core strategy for promoting systemic SEL in CPS has been integration with other initiatives and policies. This includes a progressive discipline policy that limits the use of exclusionary discipline practices and encourages all schools to respond to misbehavior using supportive, restorative discipline practices to promote social and emotional development. The result of this policy shift and accompanying professional development efforts has been a dramatic decrease in suspensions and expulsions and an increase in the use of instructive, corrective, and restorative responses to misconduct.
SEL is also committed to professional development for core academic content areas such as math and literacy. The mandatory districtwide principal institute in 2015 focused on “Reaching Hearts and Minds” and included a strong focus on SEL. Stakeholders throughout the district are communicating about their work as part of a larger strategy to promote social, emotional, and academic development. This message is reinforced by having SEL embedded in the district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support initiative.
CPS carefully tracks attendance and discipline metrics and has seen a large drop in the number of suspensions. District suspensions are down 65 percent from two years ago. This translates to 44,000 fewer students being suspended from school in 2016 alone.
To the extent that schools have invested in SEL, they are also seeing academic benefits. The CPS Freshman-on-Track and graduation rates have also been increasing in tandem with an increased focus on SEL. Although SEL work isn’t solely responsible for these gains, CPS leaders believe it has played a role in all of these areas.
In a study conducted for CASEL, the CDI’s independent evaluator determined that, since implementation:
- Third-graders in 21 schools demonstrated significant increases (according to teacher reports of students’ skills) in Social Awareness and Responsible Decision-Making.
- Seventh-graders in 17 schools demonstrated significant increases (according to student self-reports) in Social Awareness.
- Both reading and mathematics scores were significantly higher.
- Average GPA was significantly higher.
- Compared to rates for the four years prior to the start of the CDI (approximately 75%), attendance rates were significantly higher in all three years (85%, 87%, and 88%) since the start of the CDI for high school students.
“We’re teachers to educate their minds, but also how to educate their hearts and their soul. It all goes hand in hand.” Trisha Chmelinski, fourth-grade teacher, McCormick Elementary School, Chicago Public Schools
“You walk around the school now…and you can tell there are relationships that exist between teachers and teachers, between teachers and students, and students with one another. What that allows for is a culture of calm.” Jessica, ninth-grade advocate, Roberto Clemente High School, Chicago Public Schools