K-12 Education

Commission Told It Is At the “Forefront of Cultural Change” in Education

May 18, 2017  • National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’s first public hearing left no doubt about the high stakes involved in its work. As Ohio State Sen. Peggy Lehner told Commissioners, “We will not see all of our kids succeed unless your work succeeds.”

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler moderated the May 2 hearing, which was held at the Cleveland Public Library. The panelists were Paolo DeMaria, Ohio state superintendent of instruction; Robert Heard, vice chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education; and Sen. Lehner, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Education. Here are some highlights:

Why do we need to integrate social, emotional, and academic development?
We want to create the optimal conditions for learning, said DeMaria. In order for students to succeed, we must address their social and emotional needs and ensure they are ready to learn.

Focusing on social, emotional and academic development helps schools confront the obstacles that can impede learning in the classroom, noted Lehner. “SEL might feel like the latest thing in education, but it’s the most important,” she said.

There are a lot of academically smart kids who fail in college because they are not good at time management, collaboration, or self-regulation, DeMaria added. “Students need knowledge and skills, but the ability to be adaptable in a time of uncertainty is essential,” he said.

What is Ohio doing to support social, emotional, and academic development?
DeMaria noted that state guidelines and policies address truancy and suspensions, safety, school climate and anti-bullying, and promoting positive behavior. He added, though, that the state must help each school district and each teacher see themselves in this work. “Nothing happens until people own this and run with it,” he said.

What else can the state do to support social, emotional, and academic development?
DeMaria praised Cleveland’s school climate survey and added that Ohio is in the early stages of exploring whether to collect similar data at the state level to round out the discipline and bullying data it’s already collecting. Sen. Lehner referenced state data showing that some 36,000 suspensions were handed out in one academic year to children under the age of 8. “We haven’t dug deep to see what we can do to address that,” she said. “I don’t know how we talk about SEL without dealing with this.”

What recommendations can we develop that will prove useful to districts?

Heard said that “being flexible is important” because no two districts will be the same. Flexibility will also “get us out of that checklist mentality,” he added. He closed by saying that while districts need to have guidelines, they should not be prescriptive: “We need to let people experiment and adapt things to their own context.”

Does the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) create new opportunities to promote SEL?
DeMaria said that while he believes that new opportunities exist, “We are thinking beyond that.” He noted that Ohio’s strategic, statewide planning process extends beyond ESSA to make sure SEL cuts across all sectors of education. “There will be a whole pillar around student supports and school climate,” he added.

What closing comments did panelists have for the Commission?
Heard urged Commissioners to find friends in various sectors and get more of them involved in public education. “It’s important that we all pull on this rope at the same time.” Lehner told Commissioners, “You are at forefront of a cultural change in how schools run.” She added, “If you are true to this work, it will be difficult, but it is so, so important. We will not see all of our kids succeed unless your work succeeds.”