Social and Emotional Learning: A Great Investment

International Year of the Child (IYC) - 1979

United Nations International Year of the Child

 

If you know anything about the value of high-quality early childhood education, you know that the Perry Preschool Project provided a very substantial return on the money invested in it.

To be exact, society had reaped $7 in benefits for every dollar spent by the time the 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in the program reached the age of 27. More of them had graduated from high school, and they earned more money, owned more homes and cars, and had fewer arrests than their peers who’d acted as controls. (When they turned 40, the gains had climbed to $16 per dollar invested.)

Big payback for SEL

Columbia University researchers have just discovered another big winner. Their cost-benefit analysis of six social and emotional learning programs, The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning, shows that SEL delivers $11 in benefits for every dollar invested.

Although the programs they studied (Second Step, Responsive Classroom, 4Rs, Positive Action, Life Skills Training, and Social and Emotional Training) have different goals and approaches and target children of different ages and levels of risk, all of them bring benefits that greatly exceed their price tag. The children in these programs experienced significant:

  • Reductions in aggression, violence, substance abuse, and delinquency
  • Declines in depression and anxiety
  • Increases in grades, attendance, and performance on core academic subjects

213 studies can’t be wrong

A recent meta-analysis of 213 universal school-based SEL programs documented the same extraordinary results, but without examining costs. These interventions:

  • Enhanced social and emotional skills like recognizing emotions, empathy, managing stress, problem-solving, and decision-making
  • Promoted positive attitudes and social behaviors
  • Decreased behavior problems and emotional distress
  • Improved academic performance

The researchers found that SEL programs help all children, and regular classroom teachers can teach them, but this shouldn’t be an ad hoc affair. The most effective learning takes place when teachers use evidence-based programs and implement them faithfully.

An effective program includes four practices known by the acronym SAFE:

  • Sequenced—a step-by-step training approach
  • Active—active forms of learning like role-play and rehearsal
  • Focus—time spent on developing personal or social skills
  • Explicit—learning goals directed at specific social and emotional skills, rather than general ones

Head Start agrees

With such remarkable outcomes, it’s no wonder that Head Start is considering introducing SEL programs on a large scale. After testing PATHS, the Incredible Years, and a one-year version of Tools of the Mind, they found there are different ways to boost children’s social and emotional development, provided they’re evidence-based and include high-quality teacher training and coaching.

Challenging behavior and SEL

Children with challenging behavior may have trouble in the social and emotional realm. Because they’re frequently rejected by their classmates, they have few opportunities to learn and practice social and emotional skills. In fact, they may hang out with others like themselves, reinforcing their antisocial tendencies.

When you proactively teach SEL to the whole class, no one is singled out or stigmatized, and everyone learns the same concepts and vocabulary, making the skills easier to model, practice, use, and reinforce, and you can integrate them into the curriculum and everyday activities.

Clearly, social and emotional skills can be taught, and they’re worth every penny.

Here are some guides to SEL programs:

What do you think?

A nationally representative survey showed that most teachers believe social and emotional learning is important. What do you think? Are you using a social and emotional learning program in your classroom? Does it help you address behavior problems? We’d love to know your views.


One Comment on “Social and Emotional Learning: A Great Investment”

  1. Tracey Stoll says:

    I completely agree! I work each day o strengthen the skills of SEL, and the providers/educators working with them. The “returns” are so important.
    Thanks for sharing the article.


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