Students Say Poor Social and Emotional Skills Are Leaving Them Unprepared

Student Voice

Students Say Poor Social and Emotional Skills Are Leaving Them Unprepared

By Emily Tate Sullivan     Nov 30, 2018

Students Say Poor Social and Emotional Skills Are Leaving Them Unprepared

When and how should students learn social and emotional skills—between first-period biology and third-period English literature? After lunch and before U.S. history?

It might seem strange to squeeze in lessons on coping with trauma or resolving political disputes in between frog dissections and persuasive essay writing, but students today say they want to be as prepared socially and emotionally as they are academically when they leave high school.

Yet more than three-quarters (77 percent) of recent high school students say that is not the case, according to a new report released Thursday by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education,” John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic and co-author of the report, said during a press briefing.

Based on a nationally representative survey of 1,300 current and recent high school students, the report adds valuable student perspectives to the conversation about social and emotional learning (SEL), which educators increasingly note as being critical to students’ overall success and growth. Students were not asked to identify their schools, but the report’s authors say it’s highly unlikely respondents were from the same schools due to the diverse geographic area they represent.

Perhaps most notable, according to Timothy Shriver, CASEL’s board chair, is that the report reveals student insights on SEL at an especially fraught time for the country.

“Our national dialogue is filled with tension, fear, divisiveness [and] anger,” he said during the briefing. “There seems to be a climate and culture that is enhancing anxiety. Our politics seem to be pulling us further and further apart.”

For this reason, he said, it is more important than ever to instill young people with the social and emotional skills they need to navigate division, mistrust and trauma.

“There has been a long and divisive conversation about whether we should be educating the head or the heart,” Shriver said. “That either/or conversation needs to be over.”

An essential part of growing up—in addition to getting workforce-ready—is being able to navigate tricky or trying situations that demand compassion, confidence, patience and trust, he added.

The survey asked students whether they felt they’d been taught the SEL skills they would need to be successful after high school. The report broke down those results by “high SEL schools” and “low SEL schools,” which were defined as schools that did or did not, respectively, help students develop certain social and emotional skills.

Only 13 percent of graduates from so-called low SEL schools, versus 83 percent of graduates from high SEL schools, believe they were set up for success. Students from “medium SEL schools,” which taught some SEL skills, fell in the middle.

CASEL High School Report
Credit: CASEL

The report found that Hispanic students, more than their African-American and white peers, were less likely to feel physically safe in school. Similarly, low-income students feel less safe in school than their more privileged peers; they are also less likely to feel comfortable participating in school or excited about learning.

“This report is a wake-up call to all of us, especially business leaders,” said Vicky Dinges, a senior vice president at the Allstate Foundation, which sponsored the survey and report.

In most workplaces today, Dinges added, social and emotional skills like communication and understanding differing points of view are as essential as any basic job function.

Outside of the workplace, those skills are just as critical for students to have, Bridgeland said. “Think about the national landscape and how critical it is to get along with others who have different beliefs,” he said. “Belonging, inclusion, compassion—it makes them better, more effective human beings.”

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