Selling SEL (Social Emotional Learning)
Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "No Excuses" Teaching
By the late 1960s, James Comer had begun to implement public school interventions in New Haven, CT that focused on the social and emotional needs of children living in poverty. This was the beginning of the modern social-emotional learning movement.
Principals, parents, teachers, and social services professionals worked together to evaluate and alter school programs that these stakeholders deemed to be exacerbating behavioral problems among poor children in New Haven. To the surprise of no one,student attendance and achievement improved as a result, as did overall school climate and relationships among students and between students and staff:
In the late 1960s, during his early days at Yale School of Medicine's Child Study Center, James Comer began piloting a program called the Comer School Development Program. It was, as he wrote later in a 1988 Scientific American article, centered on his speculation that "the contrast between a child's experiences at home and those in school deeply affects the child's psychosocial development and that this in turn shapes academic achievement."Then with the birth of the "no excuses" movement and zero tolerance policies in schools during the 1990s, the focus of social-emotional learning shifted away from attempts to alter school environments to take into account the effects of poverty on children. Instead, the new social-emotional learning began to shift toward altering children so that become immune to the effects of poverty, thus capable of high test scores without the need for expensive social interventions or time-consuming community input.
The School Development Program focused on two poor, low-achieving, predominately African American elementary schools in New Haven, Connecticut, that had the worst attendance and the lowest academic achievement in the city. With help from the program, the schools established a collaborative-management team composed of teachers, parents, the principal, and a mental health worker. The team made decisions on issues ranging from the schools' academic and social programs to how to change school procedures that seemed to be engendering behavior problems.
By the early 1980s, academic performance at the two schools exceeded the national average, and truancy and behavior problems had declined, adding momentum to the nascent SEL movement.
Soon thereafter there began the incessant glorification by the media of high test scores from the KIPP Model charter schools, Schools Matter: Selling SEL (Social Emotional Learning):