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Committee for Children is working to incorporate and emphasize social-emotional learning (SEL) in federal policy that relates to young people.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

The main piece of legislation that sets federal policy related to K–12 education is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. The last time ESEA was signed into law was in 2002, and it was named the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress has failed to pass a new bill to reauthorize the program, leaving No Child Left Behind as the law of the land. Many states are currently seeking waivers from the US Department of Education to gain flexibility and relief from many of the punitive aspects of No Child Left Behind.

As of the end of June, 2014, a bipartisan bill reauthorizing ESEA has passed out of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and is awaiting floor debate and a vote. It is unclear if this will happen in 2014. SEL is specifically promoted in several places in the Senate bill, including:

  • Title IV—Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students. The purpose of this Title is “to foster positive conditions for learning in public schools, in order to increase academic achievement for all students.” Part C, Section 4302(a) identifies key activities and lists “develop social and emotional competencies.”
  • Title IX—General Provisions. This Title includes ten conditions for learning that "advance student achievement and advance positive child and youth development by supporting schools that promote physical, mental, and emotional health and promote social, emotional, and character development,” including to “help staff and students to model positive social and emotional skills.

Education Research

In May of 2014, The US House passed a bill (HR 4366) that reauthorizes the federal education research system. The bill adds SEL to the list of identified issues that should be studied and evaluated by the federal education research system, such as the Institute of Education Sciences. Joan Duffell, the Executive Director of Committee for Children, sent a letter to Congressional leaders in support of the legislation. The letter stated:

SEL skills help students succeed in school and also prepare them for future roles as citizens, employees, managers, parents, volunteers, and entrepreneurs. I am confident that HR 4366 will help ensure that additional research and evaluation will be conducted on the impact of SEL programs on student success and academic achievement, including closing the achievement gap.

The bill passed the full US House on May 18, 2014, and is now pending in the US Senate.

Other SEL Legislation

Committee for Children supports the following bills pending in Congress:

  • HR 1875: Sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan, the bipartisan Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act allows funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for SEL programming.
  • HR 4509: The Supporting Emotional Learning Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Susan Davis, would require SEL to be part of training for teachers under the Higher Education Act and also prioritizes SEL in the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) by identifying it as a topic for educational research.

Proposed Grant Priorities for the US Department of Education

In June of 2014, the US Department of Education released a draft set of 15 priorities that are intended to guide competitive grant programs over the coming years. The Department has proposed including “bolstering the development of students’ non-cognitive skills” as a new area of focus. This issue is described as including:

“…a broad range of behaviors, strategies, and attitudes, such as academic behaviors (e.g., attendance, homework completion), academic mindsets (e.g., sense of belonging in the academic community, believing academic achievement improves with effort), perseverance (e.g., tenacity, self-discipline), social and emotional skills (e.g., cooperation, empathy, adaptability), and approaches toward learning strategies (e.g., executive functions, attention, goal-setting, curiosity, problem solving, self-regulating learning, study skills).”

Read the full copy of the proposed grant priorities.

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