NewSchools Is Not Overselling Social-Emotional Learning – by Stacey Childress


Our team at NewSchools recently released a report titled, Using Expanded Measures of Student Success for School Improvement. In it, we share some on-the-ground lessons from innovative public schools in our portfolio. Some aspects of it caused Checker Finn angst, prompting what he dubbed a “crotchety old guy” blog. As usual, crotchety or not, his observations are smart and useful. In the spirit of dialogue, I wanted to respond to some of his points.

In 2015, we launched an innovative schools portfolio, looking for teams starting new district and charter schools designed to help every student build a strong academic foundation and important mindsets, habits, and skills correlated with success in young adulthood. Back then, we weren’t following the crowd, because there wasn’t one yet. But we thought conditions were ripe for it to develop into a larger trend, which it has in a big way. So much so, we use “fever pitch” to describe the current level of interest among big funders, policymakers, and think-tanks. The term is meant as a caution, not a celebration.

If all the talk and attention doesn’t lead to more clarity about how schools can support both academic and social emotional learning, it won’t matter much. Given our role as a funder of lots of new schools—more than one hundred since 2015—we’re in a position to roll up our sleeves with them to try out various approaches, learn quickly, jettison things that don’t work, and share lessons broadly. So far we’ve published two pieces about our work in this area, available here and here.

Checker flagged three important issues: how non-academic indicators are measured, whether schools can help improve them, and whether they should be part of accountability systems. Below are some thoughts on each:

1. In terms of measurement, self-report surveys have limitations, and we acknowledge those. And yet, it’s possible to assess whether they are valid instruments for specific SEL and culture measures. We selected items that had been validated in similar contexts, most of which were already in use with hundreds of thousands of students. Every year, we validate them again in our specific implementation context. However, over the long haul, we need stronger tools for this purpose—ideally ones that generate information about how students are developing based on what they do, not solely on what they say. We’ve conducted small pilots of a couple of such tools, but they aren’t mature enough to roll out further. Like Checker and Rick Hess, we want to see more R & D capital brought to bear on the development of more sophisticated approaches to this measurement challenge. In the meantime, we’ll continue to use the best tools we can find and do our best to be transparent about what they tell us and what they don’t.

2. Can educators help students develop social emotional competencies? In other words, are they malleable in a school context? The short answer: Some are, some …read more    

08/11/2019 |

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