Special Report: What Do School Districts Want From SEL Products and Programs?

Managing Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Special Report: New Directions in SEL

During the bleakest periods of the pandemic, school districts relied on social-emotional learning strategies for stability as they endured a complex and historic crisis.

The worst of COVID-19 has now passed. But SEL is threaded into the work of many school districts to a greater extent than ever before.

In this new special report, New Directions in Social-Emotional Learning: What’s Next for the K-12 Market, EdWeek Market Brief explores how the effort to nurture students’ skills in areas like self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making has evolved, and what districts hope SEL-focused product and service providers will help them accomplish in the years to come.

As district demands for SEL have grown, companies and other organizations have scrambled to keep up. The landscape of organizations with an interest in social-emotional learning today includes not only those focused on delivering SEL, exclusively, but also those that have woven it into a broader array of products they offer.

An EdWeek Market Brief survey of K-12 businesses last year found that over the course of the pandemic, 1 in 5 had added products focused on SEL, whole-child, or special-needs populations to their portfolios.

Our new report breaks down the results of a nationally representative survey of 278 district and school leaders, conducted for EdWeek Market Brief by the EdWeek Research Center in September and October, and compares those results against the findings of a survey we fielded two years ago.

Among the key questions addressed in the survey, and the report:

  • What kinds of SEL products and programs are district and school officials planning to purchase next year? The options include PD for teachers, lessons embedded in different academic subjects, stand-alone lessons, surveys of students, and data analysis.
  • How does the demand for SEL programs directed at elementary students compare with those targeting secondary students?
  • What sources of funding — from federal, state, and local sources — are districts tapping into to pay for SEL, and how much are they planning to spend over the coming year?
  • Which district and school officials — from superintendents to curriculum directors to principals — have the most influence in deciding whether to purchase SEL products/programs?
  • To what extent are parents’ and elected officials’ political/cultural objections to SEL — which have recently arisen in Florida, and in some local communities — having an impact on school districts?
  • How do district and school leaders believe technology can enhance SEL resources, and what drawbacks do they see in digital approaches?
  • In which subjects throughout the school day — English/language arts, math, social studies, science, health, other — do school officials want to see SEL lessons embedded?
  • What are the core features that district and school leaders want to see in SEL products and programs? Do they expect virtual resources, or are print-based materials their expectation?
  • What are the key factors — from cost to evidence of improving student behavior to availability in Spanish — that would lead a K-12 official to recommend a SEL program to a peer in another district?

The report also includes an in-depth look at a major concern emerging in school districts: that social-emotional learning programs are being counted on to address an ever-increasing array of student well-being and mental health needs that potential undermine the effectiveness of those resources.

EdWeek Market Brief Staff Writer Emma Kate Fittes talks to K-12 officials and researchers about the risks that come with the growing list of demands.

“There’s this view that if we have SEL — it will fix everything and it’s the panacea,” said Trish Shaffer, the social emotional learning coordinator for Washoe County Schools in Nevada.

“It does not. If anything, [there’s a] continuum that is required in a building around mental wellness supports, and SEL is part of that. But we need to build out the other supports and name them and address them in the appropriate way.”

The data and insights in the report offer a critical roadmap on the biggest demands for SEL that are emerging from school districts, and what’s needed from education companies.

To learn more about accessing the full report, go here.

Image collage: Getty and Liz Yap/Education Week