Common Core, which is currently enacted in forty-five states, outlines math and reading standards in order for students to be career and college ready. However, in today’s work force, career and college ready skills demand more than the mastery of reading and math. According to the Hart Research Associates, ninety-five percent of employers agree that their company puts a priority on hiring people with both the intellectual and interpersonal skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace. Numerous other studies have also pointed toward the immense value of interpersonal skills. In order for students to truly be career and college ready, social-emotional programs must not be forgotten in the midst of the raising focus on standardized testing.
Social-emotional learning programs focus on developing an individual’s self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Learning to recognize, understand, manage and express emotions is key to building healthy relationships and achieving academic, career and life goals. Social-emotional learning programs not only aid students but also focus on disadvantaged students.
Disadvantaged students are at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socio-emotional problems, physical health problems and developmental delays. In the United States, children are poorer than they have ever been in the last decade. Twenty-two percent of children fall below the poverty line which means more than 1 out of 5 children in a classroom suffer from poverty.
According to research conducted by Stanford University, as many as one-third of disadvantaged children living in the United States’ violent urban poor neighborhoods have PTSD, nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq. PTSD symptoms in youth are similar to attention-deficit disorder, which reflects a lack of concentration, poor grades, and inability to sit still. Youth with PTSD also exhibit serious problems with trust, shame, self-esteem, aggression, and interpersonal relationships.
These problems significantly factor into a detrimental cycle of failure in the education system for disadvantaged students. However, instead of solely focusing on improving these students’ academic test scores, a new approach to breaking the cycle of poverty for disadvantaged students has been found in social-emotional learning programs focusing in empathy.
Empathy decreases aggression and disciplinary actions, bullying, and school absenteeism. When those qualities decrease, academic achievement increases. For example, the University of Chicago’s 2011 Social-Emotional Program longitudinal study of 270,034 Kindergarten through high school students measured student achievement gains after completion of a social-emotional learning program. Students who went through a social-emotional program showed an average of an eleven-point increase in academic achievement.
Ashoka, a social innovation non-profit that pioneers how education can cultivate children, started an empathy movement named the Start Empathy Initiative in elementary schools based on the positive relationship between empathy and lifetime success. Coining them, “Changemaker Schools,” Ashoka identifies, selects and collaborates with schools to enhance and amplify their empathy models. Ashoka also collectively identifies and addresses the challenges to make a comprehensive education a reality for all children. Ashoka strives to have at least sixty “Changemaker School” partnerships by 2016. Currently, Ashoka partners with fifty-four schools across the nation with seven partnerships in Washington D.C.
Programs such as Ashoka’s Changemakers program need to captivate just as much attention as Common Core. Minority and low socio-economic status students are already at a higher risk to be behind academically and socially. As interpersonal skills are just as important as academic ability in the workforce, social emotional learning programs should be implemented into curriculum. A focus on reaching academic and social standards will enrich students, especially disadvantaged ones, for future career and college success.