Deep Dives

A Preview of “State Policy Bright Spots: SEL and Equity”

September 21, 2022
Caitlin M. Dermody
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Nancy Duchesneau
The Education Trust
A Preview of “State Policy Bright Spots: SEL and Equity”

Foundational state policies that support social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools (e.g., competencies, guidance, and professional development) do not exist in a vacuum. The implementation of state SEL policy efforts, like the SEL Online Modules in Washington or the SEL and Employability Skills crosswalk in Delaware, often depends upon the conditions created by related policies that broadly support social, emotional, and academic development. For example, professional development policies and curriculum policies shape the environment in which state SEL policies can function effectively. As state policymakers seek to advance the social, emotional, and academic development of all students, it is important to consider the relationship of SEL policies to other policies at the state level. 

In CASEL’s newest publication “State Policy Bright Spots: SEL and Equity,” CASEL partners with The Education Trust (Ed Trust) to do just that. The brief explores the relationship of SEL policies and related state policies in 6 states. While all high-quality SEL policies should create conditions that advance equity and excellence, this brief highlights SEL policies that center equity as an explicit goal of implementation. For example, one central California policy that is highlighted is the state’s Transformative SEL competencies, which promote equity by supporting the identity, agency, and belonging of students and educators.

This brief unites and amplifies data from both CASEL and Ed Trust. Since 2011, CASEL has completed state scans approximately every two years to monitor foundational policy efforts for SEL. (Read the most recent CASEL SEL Policy State Scan here). In 2021, Ed Trust partnered with CASEL to create and conduct scans of related state policy areas that support the social, emotional, and academic development of students in an equitable way. Ed Trust evaluated all 50 states’ policies in five areas, including discipline; professional development; rigorous and culturally sustaining curriculum; student, family, and community engagement; and wraparound services. (A summary of these scans data can be found in Ed Trust’s recently published tool, “Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD?”). In turn, CASEL scanned and evaluated SEL policies that specifically focused on the goals of advancing equity. The resulting analysis elevated the policy approaches of six states – California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin – working to support equity through SEL.  

“State Policy Bright Spots: SEL and Equity” provides a comprehensive overview of the conditions in a state by summarizing the policies specifically related to SEL and the policies related to discipline; professional development; rigorous and culturally sustaining curriculum; student, family, and community engagement; and wraparound services. The examples elevated in the brief are not presented as perfect policy approaches, but rather as “Bright Spots.” A “Bright Spot” is an innovative example of policy designed to support implementation of evidence-based, systemic SEL within the unique context of a state. For example, some readers may become inspired by how Washington’s professional development policies support how educators understand and relate to SEL competencies within the state. Other readers may seek to learn more about how New York’s and Massachusetts’s policies on rigorous and culturally sustaining curriculum support the states’ culturally responsive guidance on SEL implementation. 

While the brief highlights the unique approaches of these “Bright Spots”, it also reveals some commonalities across policy approaches. As policymakers developed foundational SEL policies in these states, like guidance, competencies, or professional development, they made an initial commitment to advancing equity. For example, California’s included “Commit to equity” as one of their Guiding Principles, which shaped their SEL approach. In addition, both Delaware and Wisconsin collaborated with a wide variety of stakeholders as they developed their SEL approaches to pursue research related to how their state could support equity through SEL. While unique and diverse, each “Bright Spot” speaks to how a commitment to equity early on in a state’s SEL policy creation process can lead to major progress down the road. That being said, these examples can also inspire states already on their SEL policy journey to consider how they could prioritize equity in their work.

Inequity within schools is a systemic challenge that requires a systemic solution. Each “Bright Spot” serves as an illuminating light – rather than a roadmap – on the role that both SEL policies and related policies can play in the broad policy environment of a state. Read the brief here to see how these examples might help you best implement SEL policy and support the social, emotional, and academic development of all students.

Caitlin M. Dermody is a first-year doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the former Policy and Research Specialist at CASEL. Nancy Duchesneau is a Senior P-12 Research Associate at The Education Trust, and leads the organization’s work on social, emotional, and academic development.

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