Continuing the SEL & DEI Conversation

As the claims of academic failure by some campaigns have been proven completely unfounded, they have begun to push their other narratives to fire up their base. One of those claims is that the schools are spending too much time focusing on social emotional learning (SEL) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the detriment of the students’ time learning core academics.

In an article examining this claim, Carmel resident James May compared the initiatives involving SEL and DEI compared to alternate initiatives. First, he explained that the majority of the SEL and DEI initiatives involved staff training. Most of these are not initiatives that involve what is being taught in the classroom, but rather developing the skills of the teachers and staff as they work with the students. He went on to show how the count of these initiatives compare to the count of initiatives not involving SEL or DEI. His analysis showed that SEL and DEI initiatives are not the massive time-consuming concern that some campaigns are claiming.

May’s look into this claim provided great insight. We decided to build on that by adding a discussion about the actual effects of these programs on student achievement. Our intention is to show you that, not only are these programs not taking a lot of time from the students, but they are actually improving the academic outcomes for the students.

First, let’s consider a meta-analysis done by Durlak et al. (2011). This peer-reviewed research article discussed the results of 213 SEL programs involving over 270,000 students. This study found that SEL programs resulted in improved behaviors and competencies along with an 11 percentage-point increase academic performance.

This study is by far not the only research showing that these initiatives improve academic performance. In 2017, an alliance of academic scholars from institutions such as Harvard, Yale, NYU, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Rutgers, USC, and Penn (among others) authored a paper on The Evidence Base for How We Learn Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. The experts involved with this paper not only confirmed that SEL initiatives are essential for individuals to succeed in school, workplaces, and the community, but that they actually have a positive return-on-investment. They found that for every $1 spent on an SEL initiative, we yield $11 in long-term benefits (Jones et al., 2017).

These are just two of the significant academic articles showing that SEL programs significantly improve student outcomes and have a substantial return-on-investment. How does this relate to DEI? One thing to point out is that SEL and DEI are often discussed together as a package; however, they are distinctly different initiatives. An article from Mindful Practices discusses the two concepts and how they can work together. From the article:

What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) helps us create space for self reflection and provides the tools to regulate our emotions and improve/encourage better decision making. SEL is a tool that can be utilized during individual student check-ins to promote student voice and strengthen student-educator relationships.

What is Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI)?

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a structure that prioritizes a higher standard and attention to diversity, equity, and inclusivity, how we practice it, and how we hold ourselves and our leadership accountable to it.

Let’s take a look at each term:

DIVERSITY is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective. Populations that have been-and remain- underrepresented among practitioners in the field and marginalized in the broader society.

EQUITY is promoting justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.

INCLUSION is an outcome to ensure those that are diverse actually feel and/or are welcomed. Inclusion outcomes are met when you, your institution, and your program are truly inviting to all. To the degree to which diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization or group.

The positive effects of DEI training for schools have been studied at a number of universities. At American University they find that diversity helps students enter adulthood, prepares students for citizenship, and promotes creativity. An analysis by The Power School indicates that diversity prepares students for the global economy, build confidence, improve student achievement, and foster creativity. It should be noted that DEI is an increasing part of corporate culture for many Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Walmart. Companies such as Eli Lilly, Roche, and the major healthcare organizations in Indiana all recognize and have adopted DEI principles as a core part of their culture. Thus, DEI can help our teachers provide a better learning environment for their students, and will help prepare out students for a global work place where DEI principles are considered critical to an organization’s growth strategy.

It is easy to see why these two concepts would be related and work together. In fact, the previously mentioned paper by Jones et al. includes a section discussing how SEL can have a positive impact on creating a more equitable society. The problem is that SEL is not an initiative that is intended to teach the actions and behaviors that will ensure the marginalized subsets of our student population are treated equitably. This is where DEI programs come in. These programs help to create the environment that will ensure the success of our SEL programs and one in which EVERY child can thrive.

Given that both DEI and SEL will benefit the learning environment, and thus should improve student performance, it is odd that candidates for school board would suggest that these strategies are potentially harmful, or to quote them: we all want a diverse, inclusive, and fair educational experience, but these policies run the risk of causing the very problems they purport to be addressing.

How exactly would that occur? How do policies that bring children together separate them? When asked, no one seems to be able to answer that question, especially in the face of the evidence we have cited indicating positive effects of DEI and SEL.

So, to those who would argue that DEI and SEL are mistaken policy, perhaps the following questions should be asked:

  1. If you are against diversity, are there specific groups of teachers, staff or students that should be marginalized?
  2. If you are against equity and giving students the tools they need to maximize their potential, which students are going to not reach their potential because we refused to help them?
  3. If you are against inclusion, then which students should be told they are going to be excluded, and how does that help them reach their potential?

Those who argue against concepts such as DEI and SEL play the “zero sum” game. They believe that if you help one student or group of students, you are somehow negatively affecting another student or group of students. That is inherently faulty logic. When programs such as DEI and SEL are implemented, ALL students are lifted up! And that is why Kouka/Williams/Nichols are supporters of these initiatives: because they want ALL CCS kids to thrive.

So What Do We Know About DEI & SEL?


The Evidence Shows that These Programs Improve Student Performance

Claims that these programs are hurting Carmel Clay Schools academic performance are simply wrong. Not only are Carmel schools continuing to perform at a high level, our relative performance is improving. This is further supported by the evidence showing that the programs improve student performance and even have significantly positive return on investment for the community.


Indiana Requires Social and Emotional Skills as a Part of Employability Skills

The current Employability Skills Standards from the Indiana Department of Education require that components of SEL (specifically regulation, connection, and collaboration), be taught in Indiana schools. It is not possible for schools to eliminate these programs as they would not meet Indiana's standards. Even reducing the programs would hurt the level at which Carmel Clay Schools perform relative to the rest of the schools in the state. 


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are Considered Critical to the Business World

Not only do diversity, equity, and inclusion programs help the students in our schools, they are considered critical to many of the top businesses in the world. In fact, a survey by Deloitte in 2017 found that around 67% of 10,000 business leaders viewed diversity and inclusion as "important" or "very important." If we reduced or eliminated these programs we would not only be hurting our children's growth, but we would be denying them the development of skills that the major employers are looking for in their future leaders.

Knowing all of this…why would anyone be running on a platform against improving our student achievement and preparing them for higher education and the workforce? 

Wouldn’t it better to build on our record of success and continue to support our students and teachers as they work to provide the best possible education that will prepare Carmel students to be leaders in our communities.

If you agree, please support Kristin Kouka, Jennifer Nelson-Williams, and Jake Nichols on November 8, 2022 for Carmel Clay School Board as they continue building on our schools’ success!

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