Helping schools figure out how to better teach social and emotional skills to students alongside traditional academic subjects will be the focus of a new, multiyear endeavor recently announced by the Aspen Institute.
The aim of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, which has members from all three sectors, is to “advance a new vision for what constitutes success in schools,” the Aspen Institute said in a statement announcing the group’s formation.
That work, which will culminate in a list of recommendations in late 2018, builds on steps already taken by research and advocacy groups that seek to advance the mission of public schools beyond traditional academics to include a focus on such issues as students’ abilities to recognize and respond to their own emotions, to form effective peer relationships, and to persevere through difficulty.
Members of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development include school district leaders, teachers, researchers, corporate executives, state leaders, philanthropists, and military officers. Among them:
Laszlo Bock, senior adviser at Google;
Meria Carstarphen, Atlanta superintendent;
Antwan Wilson, Oakland, Calif., superintendent;
James Comer, child psychiatry professor at Yale University;
Camille Farrington, managing director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research;
Craig McKinley, retired U.S. Air Force general and president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association;
Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center;
Pedro Noguera, education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles;
James Shelton, president of education for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; and
Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York
There is much disagreement about what to call the field, which includes overlapping approaches, each of which comes with its own name, including social-emotional learning, character education, noncognitive skills, and soft skills.
Advocates and researchers say nurturing students’ social and emotional skills will boost their achievement in the classroom and help prepare them to meet the needs of a changing economy as they enter the workforce.
“I do think we are at a unique moment where parents are asking for this, educators are asking for this, employers are asking for this, and science is telling us we need to do this,” Ross Wiener, the executive director of the education and society program at the Aspen Institute, said in an interview. “Lots of forces are converging to suggest that it’s an important time to go from whether we should do this to how we should do this.”
The commission will be co-chaired by three familiar names to those active in the social-emotional learning field: Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor and the president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute; John Engler, the president of the Business Roundtable and a former three-term governor of Michigan; and Timothy Shriver, the co-founder and chairman of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, and chairman of the Special Olympics.
The commission’s members, recruited in part by the three chairpersons, include two sitting governors—Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican.
The group convenes as a new federal education law turns schools’ focus to a broader set of “whole child” issues. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to include an “additional indicator” in school accountability systems, along with traditional factors like student test scores. Some have suggested that states use the new law as an impetus to encourage or require schools to emphasize students’ social-emotional skills.
But if advocates can’t even agree on what to call these skills and traits, how will they come up with a uniform set of recommendations?
Commission organizers intentionally sought to bring together diverse voices from different organizations, streams of research, and interest groups “to build natural allies and to break down some of those silos,” said Shirley Brandman, the executive director of the commission.
“Our expectation is that this group is going to take a really deliberate look at what we know and take a look at the gap between what we know and what we do,” she said.
Recommendations could include a “road map” of how skills could be strengthened among children of different ages, new directions for research, and practical steps for policymakers.
The commission will also take advice from a group of youth advisers, a council of educators, and a council of scientists formed to support its work.
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2016 edition of Education Week as New Group to Push for SEL in Schools