Late last summer the State Board of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria announced Ohio’s new five-year “Strategic Plan” for education. There are four “domains” in the plan, but only two are focused on academics.
Reading, math, science and other classes are included in the academic half of the plan. Those domains are referred to as “Foundational Knowledge & Skills” and “Well Rounded Content.”
“Leadership and Reasoning” is one of the non-academic domains. It requires teaching problem-solving, design thinking, creativity and information analytics.
The final piece of the Strategic Plan is a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) domain. This domain teaches self-awareness and management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.
Several State School Board members expressed concern that the non-academic standards will be used to evaluate teachers, included on school report cards, and incorporated in testing. The Ohio Department of Education and the state superintendent rejected only the notion that students will be tested on SEL, but some of the language included in the Strategic Plan seems to contradict that claim.
Language about “assessments” on SEL topics can be found littered throughout the Strategic Plan.
- Page 18: “Embracing the four equal learning domains will inspire the state to explore innovative approaches to assessments that go beyond academic content, particularly in the leadership and reasoning and social-emotional learning domains.”
- Page 19: “Leadership and reasoning skills and social-emotional learning go a long way to prepare a student for future success. A diverse system of assessments ensures fairness for students…”
- Page 28: “Social-emotional learning – The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
These non-academic requirements have been recommended by education organizations and academia for years. In the 1990s, for instance, the Ohio Department of Education advocated for the teaching of “skills, knowledge and attitudes” in the form of Outcome-Based Education.
Ted Sanders, the state superintendent at the time, provided a six-page handout to the Committee Responsible for Restructuring the Minimum Standards for Elementary and Secondary Schools in April 1992.
One of Sanders’ three directives to the committee was to “focus on the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that students will need to live, learn and work in a global society.” Learner Goals were identified as:
- Participate as productive members of a global society
- Maintain wellness
- Act in an ethical manner
- Value diversity
- Communicate Effectively
- Use technology personally and occupationally
- Be creative and appreciate the creativity of others
- Succeed in the world of work
- Use thinking skills to make decisions in a variety of life roles
- Be environmentally responsible
- Pursue lifelong learning
Some examples of “Learner Outcomes” included:
“Maintain physical, emotional, and social well-being; demonstrate appropriate interpersonal skills; and demonstrate an understanding of the cultural identity of self and others.”
These are now considered “Twenty-First Century Skills.”
Outcome-based education failed to gain traction in Ohio. But in 2013, the Ohio Department of Education repackaged the plan as “College and Career Readiness” and again recommended specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions for K-12 students. Dispositions were identified as “social-emotional skills or behaviors.”
The State Board of Education is poised to push the same non-academic requirements for students once again. On Tuesday, June 11, the Board will be voting on Resolution 19, acceptance of the draft standards associated with the Strategic Plan called Each Child, Our Future.
“This is part of a national movement to psychologize education falsely advertised as improving academic achievement and preventing violence and suicide,” Dr. Karen Effrem of Eagle Forum said about Ohio’s SEL standards. She had several concerns, including: a further erosion of parental rights, over-medication of the most vulnerable student populations, and inaccurate mental health assessments by personnel not trained as mental health experts.
State School Board Member Kirsten Hill proposed an amendment in the Integrated Student Supports Committee that would “add language that the State Board of Education will not develop assessments, require schools to assess, or collect information from local districts, teachers or students related to social-emotional learning,” according to the draft minutes from a May 14 meeting.
Hill shared the following as some of her concerns:
- no expert consensus on the definition of SEL
- indoctrination and erosion of freedom of attitudes, values and beliefs
- erosion of privacy with the distribution of mental health questionnaires
- personality profiling to benefit businesses and governments
The subcommittee voted six to one to reject the amendment.
The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue of mandating and testing attitudes, behaviors, and dispositions Tuesday, June 11. The State Board of Education meets at the Ohio Department of Education.
“Many of us on the state board of education are concerned about the state getting involved in social and emotional learning (SEL) for a variety of reasons. Measuring children’s feelings, values, attitudes, dispositions and behaviors is difficult to do and then sharing this highly sensitive and personal information with parties beyond the teacher and the school breaches privacy,” Hill told The Ohio Star. “There are student surveys being conducted that parents aren’t aware of. Is the school role going to expand into mental health treatment?”
Hill said that implementing the SEL standards would shift the “responsibility for a child’s emotional and social development from the family to the school.”
“Since the beginning of time the student and teacher have had a social relationship and we respect that,” she added. “Each of those relationships is unique and each of the school districts around Ohio is unique. Should the state insert itself into the unique, highly-sensitive and personal realm of children’s beliefs, values and attitudes?”
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Beth Lear is a reporter at The Ohio Star. Follow Beth on Twitter. Email tips to email@example.com.