What Does the Research Say?

Demand for social and emotional learning (SEL) is on the rise, and it is easy to see why: SEL makes a difference.

The benefits of SEL are well-researched, with evidence demonstrating that an education that promotes SEL yields positive results for students, adults, and school communities.

SEL has a powerful combination of evidence and support. The findings below come from multiple fields and sources and includes analyses of hundreds of studies that show SEL leads to beneficial outcomes related to: social and emotional skills; attitudes about self, school, and social topics; social behaviors; conduct problems; emotional distress; and academic performance.

In addition, the surveys published below by CASEL and partners show teachers, principals, parents, and students agree: SEL is essential.

Download this customizable presentation to make a compelling case for SEL.

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The Benefits of SEL

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SEL leads to academic outcomes and improved behaviors

When students have supportive relationships and opportunities to develop and practice social, emotional, and cognitive skills across many different contexts, academic learning accelerates. Hundreds of studies offer consistent evidence that SEL bolsters academic performance.

Results from a landmark meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that:

  • SEL interventions that address the five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate.
  • Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
  • Additional meta-analyses echoed these findings. Consistency across independent research teams offers strong support that well-implemented SEL programs are beneficial.

What might this mean for the practical benefits of SEL? About 27% more students would improve their academic performance at the end of the program and 24% more would have improved social behaviors and lower levels of distress.

Read the 2011 meta-analysis (Durlak et al., 2011)

Read a summary of the four major meta-analyses on SEL. 

More recently, a 2021 systemic review found that universal SEL interventions enhance young people’s social and emotional skills and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in the short term. In comparison, other approaches have produced inconsistent (mindfulness interventions) or limited evidence of impact (positive youth development interventions).

Read the 2021 report from the Early Intervention Foundation 

SEL benefits are long-term and global

Subsequent analyses spoke to the long-term effects of SEL implementation as well as SEL’s effectiveness in diverse cultural contexts.

Long-term effects: 

  • Measured a positive correlation between strong social emotional assets (measured at the end of intervention) and higher levels of well-being up to 18 years later. (Taylor et al. 2017)
  • The long term-effects of SEL were also supported (Wiglesworth, et al. 2016)

Effectiveness across cultural contexts:

  • An SEL approach was consistently effective with all demographic groups both inside and outside the United States. This supports the idea that social and emotional assets promoted in SEL can support the positive development of students from diverse family backgrounds and geographic contexts. (Taylor et al. 2017)
  • SEL interventions show the largest effect size when the intervention is designed with a specific context or culture in mind. This supports the idea that SEL is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ intervention. (Wiglesworth, et al. 2016) 

Read the 2017 meta-analysis of 82 research studies involving 100,000 students worldwide.

SEL is a wise financial investment

When it comes to school programming, education leaders are often weighing the benefits of investing in new efforts. Cost-benefit research demonstrates the value of SEL programs. The report found an average return on investment for six evidence-based programs of 11 to 1, meaning for every dollar invested there is an $11 return.

Read the 2015 review from Columbia University.

Social and emotional skills help improve lifetime outcomes

In addition to the long-term outcomes articulated above, there are statistically significant associations between social and emotional skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later. Specifically, social and emotional skills decreased the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance, having any involvement with police before adulthood, and ever spending time in a detention facility.

Read the 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The Support for SEL

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What are young people saying…

High school students and recent high school graduates see the benefits of attending schools that emphasize SEL. But most current and recent high school students believe their schools could have done better.

Download the 2018 report from CASEL and Civic.

A qualitative study of young people who describe their experiences with the integration of social, emotional, and cognitive development in exemplar learning settings shows that supportive learning environments are nurturing young people’s sense of themselves as valued, multi-dimensional community members.

View the 2020 report from America’s Promise Alliance.

What are school principals saying…

School principals agree SEL is essential, with nearly all principals surveyed sharing that developing students’ social and emotional skills is a critical aspect of students’ in-school experience. They also want more guidance, more training for teachers, and greater access to research-based strategies for developing SEL in students.

Read the 2017 report from CASEL and Civic on the survey’s findings (and the 2019 update).

What are educators saying…

Not only do 56 percent of educators believe resources to support SEL in the classroom will be most critical post-pandemic, but 82 percent agree that a well-crafted, fully integrated SEL approach makes an impact on outcomes.

Read the 2021 Educator Confidence Report

Eighty percent of educators from across 15 countries believe positive emotions are critical for academic success, and emotional well-being is crucial for developing foundational literacies and communication skills.

Read the 2019 brief from The Economist Intelligence Unit on the survey’s findings.

What are teachers saying…

Ninety three percent of teachers want a greater focus on SEL in schools. They agree that social and emotional skills are teachable and are calling for schools to prioritize the integration of SEL learning practices and strategies.

Download the 2013 report from CASEL and Civic on the survey’s findings.

About 90 percent of elementary and secondary teachers agreed that promoting SEL would improve students’ academic achievement. It also found that teachers who reported higher levels of well-being reported engaging in SEL practices to a greater extent than those with lower reported well-being.

View the 2020 report from Rand Corporation on survey findings from the American Teacher Panel.

What are policymakers saying…

When we consider what it means for students to be prepared for college, career and community life, SEL competencies are critically important for the long-term success of all students in today’s economy. A bipartisan report addressed SEL as a core component of children’s education, recommending several steps to scale up high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs.

Read the 2015 report from American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution.

What is the broader public saying…

Eighty-two percent said that it is highly important for schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others, and persistent at solving problems.

Read the 2017 PDK poll results.

What are parents saying…

Eighty-one percent of parents believe that SEL is just as important as academic learning.

Read the 2018 Social and Emotional Learning Report from McGraw-Hill Education/Morning Consult.

What are employers saying…

Six of the identified top 10 skills for the future involve social and emotional competence, including complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.

View the The World Economic Forum report.

Thirty-one percent of employers worldwide struggle to find qualified employees. A major reason for the qualified labor shortage is that fewer students are graduating high school with the social and emotional skills required for today’s workplace. In another survey, 92% of surveyed executives say skills such as problem-solving and communicating clearly are equal to or more important than technical skills, yet 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding employees with those skills.

View the report from Association for Career and Technical Education, Career Technical Education and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

View the Wall Street Journal article on this data.

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