There is growing acknowledgement that in addition to a firm grasp of academic knowledge, children—to succeed both in school and in life— must develop the skills to manage their emotions, cultivate positive relationships and navigate social situations. Such skills are often described under the phrase “social and emotional learning” or SEL.
Although the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not explicitly mention SEL, educators and policymakers can use funding offered under ESSA to support evidence-based programming to promote SEL. These programs could focus on, for example, peer interactions, community involvement, school climate, professional development for instructors, and other areas where the idea is to help improve schools and provide opportunities for low-income students.
The RAND Corporation conducted a review of U.S.-based SEL programs for K-12 students to better inform practitioners and policymakers on how they could be used under ESSA. The report finds that ESSA’s Title I section, the largest single source of federal funding for public schools (some $15 billion to $16 billion annually) and the part of the law including the newly named School Improvement Funds program, can be used for some SEL interventions. Title II, Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders, and Title IV, 21st Century Schools, can also be applied, depending on the type of intervention and outcome sought.
The review also describes:
- The law’s four tiers of evidence, designed for consideration and use by states and districts,
- 60 identified K-12 SEL programs that meet ESSA Tiers I through III, outlined by outcomes, school levels, settings, samples, and intervention features,
- How to take advantage of Tier IV flexibility for programs with no empirical research, and
- How states and districts can use this report to identify relevant, evidence-based SEL programs that meet their local needs.
According to the report, educators in elementary schools and urban communities currently have the most options for SEL programming that meets ESSA evidence requirements. The evidence-based interventions most commonly boost interpersonal skills.
Additionally, online-only intervention summaries—links available in the bibliography—provide more detail of the branded (and some non-branded) programs, so that practitioners can compare programs and best select a course of action based on particular SEL competencies.
ESSA is the successor to the No Child Left Behind law, itself the re-authorization of the 1965 law promoting equal opportunity in public education.