Education Policy Supports Social Emotional Learning

By Divya Sridhar, Ph.D., Policy Analyst at McGraw-Hill Education

Recently, the US has been taking greater interest in developing federal policy to support the presence of non-traditional skills and competencies — with a focus on social emotional learning (SEL) — in traditional academic curriculum, and made this a priority across the nation. State policy has followed, leading to a broad swath of schools with varying demographics and socioeconomic characteristics participating in SEL. Research has shown the correlation between students who receive SEL and a wide range of positive outcomes: higher high school graduation rates, higher college matriculation rates, greater chances of success in the workforce, and positive health and well-being overall.

It is clear that federal policy is trying to keep pace with the changes in 21st century learning environments. Seeking to revise the former No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the most recent K-12 federal law — the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — was enacted in 2015. The law includes requirements to enhance the social emotional learning support in school environments, through funding for pilot programs, instructor training, and assessments that incorporate SEL.

For example, state funds from ESSA Title I and Title II, Part A can be used by schools to provide a host of techniques and supports for young children (pre-K through grade 3). SEL services may include mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, peer interaction, and chronic absenteeism. Additionally, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEGs) are block grants awarded under Title IV, Part A of ESSA, which provide significant funding streams (nearly $1.65 billion in 2017 and $1.6 billion in the three fiscal years after) for the purpose of helping states incorporate SEL into school curriculum. Once block grants are awarded using a funding formula to specific school districts, the districts can choose to utilize the funds for SEL programs, assessments, and training. Federal opportunities to access these resources early on in their educational journey can pave the path for healthier and more successful futures.

State policy shapes the SEL developmental standards schools are required to meet. While a vast majority of schools incorporate SEL into their preschool standards, only four states have introduced SEL standards for grades K-12, and therefore, fewer schools have introduced SEL requirements across K-12, as compared to preschool. Yet, there remains hope for the future of SEL across the learning continuum. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is an organization supported by a panel of experts to assist eight states in identifying best practices for implementing SEL in their state-specific plans. CASEL has also helped large urban school districts implement districtwide SEL plans. Furthermore, in the past year alone, ten states have introduced legislation to further support specific research, training, and funding for SEL and it is likely that more states will be focusing on SEL in the years to come.

To strengthen efforts being led by governing policies, other education stakeholders can play a role in making SEL an important part of the tools and resources students utilize in the classroom.


Divya Sridhar has been the Policy Analyst on the Government Affairs team at MHE for over two years. She has been in the public policy space for close to 7 years. She helps the company develop point of view documents, position papers, narratives, and thought leadership on focus areas within education policy.