SEL. What is it?  Social Emotional Learning.

Corporations,  non-profits,  government agencies and the American education system are obsessed with personal history, personality surveys, algorithms that get to know about students and their Social Emotional Learning and behavior.

ESSA has provisions for measuring a student’s success based on soft-skills or non-cognitive attributes.  But how would one measure “non-cognitive”  skills and do so accurately, unbiased?   How would this information be used to rank or sort a child? Who would this personal information about a child’s psychological, emotional state be shared with?


The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

NEW FOCUS ON SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING: The Aspen Institute is pulling together major education policy hitters for a new commission on social and emotional learning – a hot topic that states are exploring when it comes to holding schools and districts accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Learning Policy Institute’s Linda Darling-Hammond, Business Roundtable President John Engler and Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver are co-chairing the commission. Others on the commission include Jim Shelton, president of education for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and former deputy secretary at the Education Department, outgoing State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The group, called the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, will be funded through 2018 by philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and others. Aspen has raised about $4.5 million for the effort.
– The commission will ultimately produce a report in late 2018 with recommendations that states, districts and schools can take to develop students’ social and emotional learning and measure it in a way that produces valid results. In the two years leading up to the report, the commissioners will hold field hearings, visit schools and talk to parents, students and teachers across the country. The commission’s first meeting will be held this November. -taken from Politico Morning Education, Sept 20, 2016

Here is the Commission’s website. You will see that  a huge player in SEL is an organization called CASEL.
CASEL wrote this brief on how SEL and PBIS can interact and work together in school settings.


Despite the push for measuring competencies in SEL,  mindfulness, grit, and 21st century skills, many believe, as detailed in this 2014 article from the Washington Post, that measuring SEL in schools has been co-opted, manipulated and embraced by the reformer crowd as a means to access personal, private, and predictive information about a child and his/her family.

“School districts are increasingly trying to incorporate these lessons into the school day; for example, the Austin Independent School District is this year incorporating it into 73 schools serving 55 percent of its students and by 2015-16 plans to have it in all of its schools.

But there are always ways to corrupt good things and in this post, veteran educator Larry Ferlazzo, who has long incorporated SEL into his lessons, explains his concerns about how SEL is being manipulated by school reformers. Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.  He has written five books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog, on which this appeared.

[Ferlazzo writes] I am concerned that many proponents of Social Emotional Learning might not be aware of the increasing danger to SEL of being “co-opted” by well-heeled and well-known groups and individuals, ranging from “school reformers” to columnists like The New York Times’ David Brooks,  and converted into a “Let Them Eat Character” strategy.   I fear those “Blame The Victim” efforts may  be used to distract from the importance of supplying needed financial resources to schools, providing  increased support to families by dealing with growing income and wealth inequality, and developing a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy.

“School reformers” in Los Angeles are using SEL terms (they even call their report, True Grit) to justify pushing performance pay for teachers and rewards for students, as well as advocating for an increased emphasis on being data-driven (instead of being data-informed) through the use of  ”dynamic data.”   KIPP schools use the destructive strategy of grading character traits. “

Grading character traits.

Grading Grit, grading emotion, grading character: THAT is what the SEL Commission (and all the big money, special interest behind it)  is setting out to do.  Despite the  guru of grit herself, Angela Duckworth, who says we should not be grading grit or using grit for accountability purposes  This NY Times piece about Duckworth says,

She [Duckworth] resigned from the board of the group overseeing the California project, saying she could not support using the tests to evaluate school performance. Last spring, after attending a White House meeting on measuring social-emotional skills, she and a colleague wrote a paper warning that there were no reliable ways to do so. “Our working title was all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way,” she said.

Speaking of Duckworth, it is interesting timing that the Gates funded EdWeek announced that it will be hosting a panel on Grit and SEL this coming March, and Duckworth is the keynote speaker. Perhaps Duckworth has been convinced to change her mind on that whole grit grading thing?   If true, how un-gritty  would that be?

Seems everyone is talking about Grit (see The Grit Test on page 13, of this Workforce Skills Handbook), SEL, mindfulness, trauma informed surveys/assessments,  national groups collecting trauma informed, emotional data in schools. Ask yourself:

Do you want every behavior, perceived imperfection, private thought, every emotion of your child catalogued and profiled, tracked, shared and GRADED? Or are you more like this grandfather who has had enough of the measuring, when he writes, Keep your metrics off my grand daughter ?


gates at clinton global

Who gets and who wants all that data? Well… for starters, take a look at Bill Gates’ 2016 Priorities.  We suggest you look at the table on page 7 that shows his ideal student data system.  Gates is certainly pushing against the current laws that ban a national database that tracks students.  Considering Gates was influential in weakening FERPA, we imagine his influence will once again be pushing for this “IDEAL”  data sharing.



Finally, click here to see EdWeek’s special 2016 SPOTLIGHT on Grit and Growth Mindset.  The timing is impeccable. Speaking of timing, the SEL Commission report  on the standards will be released in 2018, about the same time that the Data badging pilots, portable data sharing of children’s competencies, will be ready to roll out.




Whose data is it anyway?




Cheri Kiesecker

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