Student Well-Being From Our Research Center

Educators See Parent Support for Social-Emotional Learning Rising Despite Some Pushback

By Holly Kurtz & Mark Lieberman — December 10, 2021 4 min read
Illustration shows a father supporting his son on his shoulders while the son is reaching for a star
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Parent support for social-emotional learning programs in K-12 schools appears to be rising despite pushback in some places, public school enrollment seems to be rebounding in certain districts now that nearly all schools are offering mostly in-person instruction, and about 3 of every 4 educators are unaware that the federal infrastructure bill will not support school building projects.

These are some of the key findings of the EdWeek Research Center’s latest monthly survey, which was administered online between Nov. 17 and Dec. 1. A total of 1,343 educators responded, including 283 district leaders, 214 principals, and 846 teachers.

There is significant parent pushback against SEL in some communities, but overall support is rising

In the past year, media coverage has featured multiple examples of parents pushing back against social-emotional learning for some of the same reasons there have been protests against teaching children about racism.

Yet only a minority of principals and district leaders (34 percent) who took the most recent EdWeek Research Center monthly survey say they have received feedback in the past year from parents concerned that social-emotional learning is teaching their children values they disapprove of.

That may be because the pushback is more common in some types of districts than in others.

For example, 59 percent of administrators in larger districts with enrollments over 10,000 say parents have expressed concerns about social emotional learning, compared with 24 percent of those in smaller districts with fewer than 2,500 students. Parent pushback is also reported more frequently by administrators in suburban and lower-poverty school districts.

Overall, teachers, principals, and district leaders are nearly twice as likely to say parental support for social-emotional learning had increased over the past year than to say it has decreased.

However, teachers, principals, and district leaders in the Midwest and the South are roughly twice as likely as their peers in the Northeast and West to say parental support for social-emotional learning has declined. Decreases in parental support for social-emotional learning were also reported more frequently by educators in public schools than in private, by teachers than by administrators, and by respondents in districts where at least some of the instruction was provided in person during the previous school year.

Most educators (62 percent) report that their own support for social-emotional learning has increased in the past year.

Student enrollment appears to be rebounding in some districts after the return to in-person schooling

The nation’s public schools lost the enrollment of more than 1 million students during 2020-21 as campuses closed down due to the pandemic and parents home-schooled their children or had them skip preschool or kindergarten altogether. Now, with the 2021-22 school year well underway, and no survey respondents reporting 100 percent remote instruction, some of those losses may be reversing.

At every grade level included on the survey, principals and district leaders were more likely to say their enrollment was higher than it was in 2020-21. The increases were strongest in kindergarten, where leaders were nearly twice as likely to report increases as decreases.

However, the increases were not evenly distributed, and some districts have continued to lose students. At the kindergarten level, for instance, declines were reported more frequently than gains by leaders in large districts and in districts where students of color comprise more than three-quarters of the enrollment.

Declines were also reported more often by leaders in urban than in rural or suburban areas, in the Western United States, and in districts where at least some of the instruction was remote during the 2020-21 school year. Because leaders in larger districts are more likely to report declines, it won’t be clear whether the nation’s overall student population is actually rebounding until official enrollment data becomes available for all states for the current school year.

Home schooling was featured prominently in explanations of both declines and increases in enrollment. Principals and district leaders who experienced declines were most likely to attribute them to home schooling and to families leaving the area due to COVID-related job losses. Those who experienced increases were most likely to say students had transferred to their schools from other public schools or to say families had tried home schooling over the course of the pandemic and that it hadn’t worked out.

Educators largely unaware federal infrastructure bill won’t support K-12 schools

President Joe Biden in March proposed a wide-ranging package of federal investments in the nation’s infrastructure, including $100 billion for improving school facilities in the Build Back Better Act. After months of chaotic negotiations in Congress, school building funds have fallen out of the package—but most teachers, principals, and district leaders aren’t aware of that, the survey shows.

More than three-quarters of respondents said they weren’t aware that school facilities won’t be getting a federal boost in the broader infrastructure bill if it passes. Forty-one percent of respondents weren’t even aware that school infrastructure was among the priorities in the first place.

Just 22 percent of respondents said they’d heard the news that the infrastructure package won’t include schools. Administrators have said they’re disappointed they won’t have an additional funding source to address billions of dollars in needed construction.

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