Press Release

As the pandemic continues to take a toll on both the social-emotional well-being of students as well as student learning, a new state-by-state review of policies shows where states are doing well and where they can improve

WASHINGTON — As the pandemic persists, many educators report that students are experiencing academic and behavioral challenges resulting in an increase in school suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions that are disproportionally aimed at Black, Latino, and students from low-income families. Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD?, released today by The Education Trust, reviews policies in all 50 states to highlight how states are supporting student needs by prioritizing social, educational, and academic development (SEAD) and where state policies threaten equity and diversity, including state efforts to limit the accurate teaching of history and current events.

“Supporting the social, emotional, and academic development of students is critical in this moment,” said Nancy Duchesneau, the project’s lead and senior P-12 research associate at Ed Trust. “Yet too often, the approach is to treat social and emotional learning as separate from academics, with many district and school leaders choosing to focus narrowly on changing student behavior rather than implementing policies and practices that build strong relationships with students and create learning environments that equitably support and integrate social, emotional, and academic growth.”

“State decisionmakers have the power and obligation to ensure that students’ humanity is seen and cherished, and to ensure that learning environments across districts are equitable. Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD? provides clear information on where individual states are thriving and where they can do better.”

Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD? looks at five policy areas to determine if state social, emotional, and academic development policies are aligned with evidence-based best practices. The scans cover Discipline; Professional Development; Rigorous & Culturally Sustainable Curriculum; Student, Family, & Community Engagement; Teacher Diversity; and Wraparound Services.

“States play a critical role in helping to ensure that all students have consistent opportunities to develop socially, emotionally, and academically,” said Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel, CASEL’s president & CEO. “Supportive state policies make room in classrooms and schools for deeper attention to social and emotional learning. The scan is a vital tool to show us where there are opportunities to grow and sustain the work ahead.”

In 2020, Ed Trust released a seminal report on supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Through an Equity Lens. This report highlighted key policy areas to integrate efforts to holistically support both social and emotional needs and academic learning for students. Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD? looks at state policy in five areas identified as critical in that report. The Education Trust previously examined state policies on teachers in Is Your State Prioritizing Teacher Diversity & Equity?

Trends found in Is Your State Prioritizing SEAD?, include:

  • Discipline. States can influence district and school disciplinary actions by setting clear goals to reduce disparities and overuses in discipline, by ensuring a strong set of data is publicly transparent, and by adopting more positive approaches to discipline, such as restorative justice, which support students’ social, emotional, and academic development. Despite research showing exclusionary discipline is often overused, the Discipline Scan finds that most states allow students to be excluded from learning activities for minor, non-violent infractions, such as defiance, and that most states don’t have policies to protect young learners from exclusionary discipline. Twenty-seven states have no restrictions at all on the use of exclusionary discipline, while only one state, Washington, has strong policies that prohibit districts from adopting zero-tolerance discipline policies and using exclusionary discipline for young learners in K-4, requires districts to consider alternative forms of discipline before excluding a student, and has passed the Crown Act to prohibit disciplinary discrimination based on hair.The Discipline policy review also finds 19 states allow corporal punishment, and 15 states that don’t allow corporal punishment don’t have strong safeguards around the use of restraint (e.g., requirements for only staff trained in both de-escalation and safe restraint being allowed to restrain students, prohibiting prone restraints, as well as a requirement for only using restraint in instances of immediate harm to oneself or others).
  • Professional Development. States should encourage districts to provide high quality and relevant professional learning opportunities, especially in asset-based pedagogies (e.g., culturally responsive practices); diversity, equity, and inclusion; adult social and emotional learning (SEL) or adult mindsets; and strategies and approaches for evidence-based, equity-focused, systemic SEL for students. However, Ed Trust finds that only 10 states require preparation programs to provide training that addresses both adult mindsets and skills to equitably support students’ social, emotional, and academic development, and only four states require educators to demonstrate mastery in a combination of skills and knowledge needed to equitably support students’ social, emotional, and academic development.
  • Rigorous and Culturally Sustaining Curriculum. Students must be challenged and encouraged to meet high expectations and have access to rigorous, deeper learning and culturally sustaining curricula. The curriculum scan finds that 27 states either ban or simply don’t provide any support for districts to adopt curricula for core subjects that is inclusive and representative of students’ diverse cultures and contexts; only three states fully support these efforts. Just five states provide both guidance and funding for local districts to select curricula that is aligned to state standards, and only 10 states require districts to equitably enroll students in advanced coursework with policies such as automatic enrollment or universal screening.
  • Student, Family, and Community Engagement. Strong partnerships between educators, students, families, and communities are essential for social, emotional, and academic development. It is also important that school leaders ensure that the voices of students of color and their families, and those from low-income and other marginalized backgrounds are centered in policy and practice decisions. The Engagement Scan finds that while 29 states have an office in the state department of education dedicated to supporting districts with family and community engagement, 12 states do not provide
    support for student, family, and community engagement. Additionally, while 29 states elevate student voice in state-level decisions in education, only 10 states intentionally include family and community representatives in state-level decisions. Only six states require teacher training in student, family, and community engagement as a requirement for certification and include this topic in teacher standards.
  • Wraparound Services. Multi-tiered or integrated systems of support (MTSS) — also known as wraparound services — can be used to ensure all students have access to resources to overcome academic and non-academic barriers to success. The Wraparound Services Scan finds that no states mandate schools to meet the 250:1 student-to-school counselor ratio, as recommended by the American School Counselor Association, and only four states have policies in place to ensure students have access to healthy nutrition without stigmatization in their schools throughout the P-12 continuum.

Ed Trust and CASEL partnered to conduct state-level reviews of the policy areas. Content leaders at the Education Trust developed rubrics for each of the policy areas to identify actions states can take to support and encourage equitable practices that will support the social, emotional, and academic development of students. These rubrics were then reviewed by experts at CASEL. Ed Trust content leaders scanned all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine whether they take the actions outlined in each of the five policy area rubrics. We examined public sources, such as state education agency websites, available publications, and legislation. CASEL and Ed Trust collaboratively identified and contacted individuals within each state’s education agency to request a review of the information gathered. While many states chose to respond with feedback, others did not. States were rated as meeting the criteria, partially meeting the criteria, or not meeting the criteria for each state action in each policy area.

“Due to Covid-19 and ongoing racial violence, today’s students are dealing with significant hardship, anxiety, stress, and unfinished learning,” said Denise Forte, interim CEO of The Education Trust. “What our data shows is that state leaders are not doing enough to ensure schools and districts have the guidance or support they need to address students’ social, emotional, and academic development well-being This report challenges states to meet this head on, interrogate their current systems, policies and practices and ensure they prioritize students’ social, emotional, and academic development.”