I took a deep dive into the realm of Social Emotional Learning recently and someone brought to my attention a House Bill that is in committee at the time of this writing. It is House Bill (HB) 1518 that was initially titled “Improving student achievement by promoting social emotional learning throughout the calendar year” but may be changed to “The Summer Step-Up Act”, a catchier title that masks what the bill is really about.

The reason I want to bring this bill to the attention of the public is that this piece of proposed legislation has the appearance of being the beginning of a concept that needs further study.

Public school education continually, by way of the whims of politicians and their donors and the whimsy of philanthropists, goes through upheavals on a regular basis and most of the time, common sense and lessons learned are left behind in the race to the next new bright and shiny silver bullet. Remember Bill Gates’ idea of galvanic wrist band monitors for students? Or the data walls in classrooms showing each student’s performance on tests in elementary school or remember IQ tests back in the day? The most recent big fails have been the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top.

This is what I see with the idea of Social Emotional Learning. Not only is this the next new thing but entrepreneurs are following behind doing all they can to make a buck off of our poorly endowed public education system.


One of those enterprises is “RULER” which is a foot in the door in Seattle Public Schools for the idea of Social Emotional Learning. This program has cost the Seattle Public School district $400,000 and is a program that is remedial, DIY with students having to make their own “mood meters” and per reports by a sampling of students “dumb”. A student is given a small card or use their own “mood meters” with the colors red, yellow, blue and green describing different emotions. The student picks the color that describes how they feel and if the feelings are in an angry zone for instance, the student is to take a “meta moment” to change that feeling. The teacher is responsible to ensure this task is done and must deal with the children who are inappropriate zones. This assumes that the teacher can manage a class of 30 students, get them to focus on their classwork as well as be a child psychologist or counselor.

This used to be the purview of counselors in schools, to deal with issues that come up with students daily but that’s not the case any longer. For example, at one elementary school in Seattle, which is a typical situation, there is a full-time principal, a part time vice principal and no counselors. That doesn’t mean students don’t have immediate needs of various sorts, it means there is no longer anyone at the school to handle everyday problems that come up. But the district still decided to spend $400,000 on a program that simply has cards with colors on it. That is an expensive band-aid and nothing more.

Getting back to Bill 1518, these are the basics:

  • 600 low income (minority) four-year old children are to participate in a four week summer program incorporating the Social Emotional Learning tenets, which are not spelled out, into an academic program which is not described.
  • These summer classes are to be housed in public school buildings around the state but in specific districts that are not described.
  • At the end of the summer sessions in 2018, there is to be an evaluation of the program.
  • Free lunch will be provided.
  • The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is to take full responsibility for the program and come up with the money to pay for this experiment.
  • Cost to be determined.

Per the bill, the goal is to eventually grow this into a statewide K12 program under the auspices of OSPI.

According to the bill, there is to be another workgroup for 2017 and is to include last year’s workgroup and a long list of additional participants. No parents or teachers are invited.

There was a Social Emotional Learning workgroup last year and out of those meetings a report was issued. I went through the meeting minutes and then the report and there is a lot more in the report than in the sum total of meeting minutes which raised a question about the report. Who wrote it? I am waiting to hear back from Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) regarding this question. So far, the two representatives from OSPI who attended the meetings stated in an email they attended only as observers and yet the report is on OSPI’s website.

My other question is how will this personal information be handled? Will the parents have knowledge of the information gathered about their children? Will it be privy to a third party? With the weakening of FERPA regulations, a third party with an “interest” in public education can have access to student information.

The plan for this new concept of Social Emotional Learning is eventually to be integrated into computer software and be a part of the goal of online learning for all students with the ability to track and store information on a student’s academic work and their emotional predispositions.

This bill is only the tip of the iceberg and all should proceed with caution.

Contact your state representatives and let them know your thoughts.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

OSPI sent me a response to my questions and to follow is the body of the email:

You’ve asked a number of questions regarding the 2016 Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks workgroup. As context, the 2015-17 operating budget (ESSB 6052) directed OSPI “to convene a workgroup to recommend comprehensive benchmarks for developmentally appropriate interpersonal and decision-making knowledge and skills of social and emotional learning for grades kindergarten through high school that build upon what is being done in early learning” (see Sec. 501 (34), p. 135).

The Legislature also provided a total of $215,000 for the workgroup to do its work. And as you noted in your blog post, the workgroup produced a report detailing its recommendations.

Regarding your questions:

  1. Who wrote the report? As the research analyst, Kathleen Callahan from OSPI was the lead writer. She wrote the report based on the workgroup’s input, and the report reflects the workgroup’s efforts. The workgroup created all the recommendations in the report based on their analysis of research and stakeholder feedback, engaged in several editing sessions and staff completed the report based on their direction.

Also, please understand that the workgroup’s report contain recommendations only – not laws or rules. At this time none of the recommendations have been passed by the Legislature.

  1. How will this personal information be used? Will the parents have knowledge of the information gathered about their children? Will it be privy to a third party?

The workgroup made no recommendations regarding the collection of student information. In fact, the workgroup asserted in the report that no assessment of social emotional learning be created based on these standards. If your question refers to House Bill 1518, you need to talk to the bill’s sponsor(s).