The Ohio State Board of Education has adopted K-12 standards that put social-emotional learning (SEL) on par with math, English, and other academic subjects.
The goal of SEL is to develop the “whole child” by helping students build “self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship and responsible decision-making skills,” the Ohio Department of Education’s official description of the standards states.
In 2012, the state board adopted Early Learning and Development Standards for children from “birth” through “kindergarten entry” that included social and emotional development, the Education Department states. In 2015, those standards were extended through the third grade.
The board adopted the full K-12 SEL standards, which are to be included in “In Each Child, Our Future,” Ohio’s strategic plan for education, on June 11 of this year.
As more states rush to adopt SEL without any buy-in from parents or teachers, the curriculum is raising controversy. Skeptics express concern about what the state will measure, who will have access to the data, and the prospect of putting teachers in the role of psychological diagnosticians and therapists.
‘Voluntary’ Like Common Core
SEL is of questionable value and scientific validity, says Karen Effrem, a pediatrician and president of Education Liberty Watch.
“Evidence shows SEL’s definition, assessments, and research are all questionable, and experts admit there is no evidence of cost-effectiveness,” Effrem said. “Ohio therefore should not be spending its state’s share of what national proponent groups estimate is $30 billion on SEL in this time of tight education budgets, teacher shortages, infrastructure issues, etc.”
Use of the standards by local school districts is supposed to be voluntary, but national curriculum standards were also supposed to be optional, yet states were pushed into adopting them and local schools have had to comply, Effrem says.
“Most likely that means voluntary in the same way Common Core standards were for states and localities,” Effrem said.
The state school board claim that children will not be evaluated for their SEL competency is dubious, says Robert Holland, a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News.
“The value of the no-assessment pledge is suspect, given Cleveland’s partnership with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the huge foundation which openly declares development of social-emotional testing mechanisms to be one of its highest priorities,” Holland said.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District states it “established its SEL program, Humanware, in 2007.”
Potential ‘Collateral Damage’
SEL adds to the tasks of already overburdened teachers, says Jane Robbins, an attorney who has written on SEL.
“As if teachers didn’t have enough to do, now they’re supposed to take over the parents’ role in children’s social-emotional development,” Robbins said.
Districts that adopt SEL standards could stigmatize children, Robbins says.
“What happens when a mistaken evaluation turns up in the child’s long-term data dossier?” Robbins asked. “Guess we’ll have to see the collateral damage.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“Ohio’s Kindergarten through Grade 12 Social and Emotional Learning Standards,” Ohio Department of Education, June 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/ohios-kindergarten-through-grade-12-social-and-emotional-learning-standards