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Questioning SEL in Walker County Schools
Earlier this year, Walker County Schools purchased a social emotional learning curriculum and platform for the district. There was a recent agreement between Walker County Schools and 7 Mindsets for a $400,000 contract drawn from the last round of COVID relief funds.
Now, whatever one may believe about SEL generally, we can all agree on one thing: any curriculum or program that will be bought and implemented in schools needs to be thoroughly reviewed, supported by research, and have a fair bit of efficacy data. It doesn't matter if it's SEL, reading, math, or anything else.
To that end, CASEL, the foremost authority on SEL assesses and keeps track of a registry of SEL programs that adhere to strict criteria. The purpose of this registry is "to support educators in selecting a high-quality SEL program, our Program Guide serves as a Consumer report-style product that showcases well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs (pre-kindergarten through high school) and the impact they have on student and/or teacher outcomes."
The program guide lists 86 SEL interventions and programs. 7 Mindsets is not among them.
Additionally, one way schools paid for SEL programs before covid was through multiple streams of federal funding available through the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. Programs and studies must meet evidence-based standards one of in order to be eligible for funding. A thorough investigation into SEL and programs was completed by the RAND corporation. They found 68 SEL programs that met any of the three ESSA evidentiary tiers . 7 Mindsets was not one of them.
As for any empirical evidence on 7 Mindsets, I've seen one study from 2014 that didn't assess the present iteration of the program. Other than that, the only evidence I've seen is anecdotal observation. If a wealth of research does exist, I'd like to know why the program hasn't been added to any of the leading registries whose sole purpose is to help leaders and teachers choose SEL programs.
Knowing that these registries exist, I'm left wondering why Walker County Schools chose to spend vast amounts of money and dedicate a significant amount of instructional time on a program with scant or no empirical evidence of effectiveness that satisfies the standards demanded by registries and researchers in SEL. I have read incomplete studies that were done in Florida and Texas in 2019, was the result insufficient for inclusion in SEL evidence backed program registries?
How did the county arrive at the decision to purchase this? Were all district needs weighed equally and the need for an SEL program won? The ubiquitous below grade level reading scores didn't warrant a significant intervention?
It doesn't stop there, though, as COVID relief money has also been set aside for hiring staff to help with the new SEL program, at salaries more than double what many Walker County teachers make now. Even though pay disparities in Walker Schools are often exceptionally obvious, this one is especially grating.
Transparency and accountability have gone out of favor everywhere it seems.
Sources used in this article are below.