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Academics + Social Skills = Better Results

February 7, 2011

It’s something I’ve been saying for years because we’ve seen it first-hand in schools using SocialSmarts. But, now another independent study has proven it: schools that implement broad spectrum social skills programs see significant improvement in academic test scores.

The EdWeek article “Study Finds Social-Skills Teaching Boosts Academics,”  results from a study just released by the Loyola University Chicago  showed that students who took part in social-emotional learning improved their academic test results by 11 percentile points compared to students  that did not receive the SEL education.

This is similar to what we have seen for schools using SocialSmarts.  I was asked two years ago by one of the State Senators if I could do and “apples-to-apples” comparison and show the impact SocialSmarts had on academic test scores against schools that didn’t use our program.  The chart below is what we found.  Of 8 public Elementary schools in the same district, in the same city, the three schools on the left used SocialSmarts; the five to the right did not.

Now, as much as I’d like to, I am not going to be so cocky as to say that SocialSmarts is the ONLY thing that made this happen. We haven’t yet been asked to participate in a research study examining specific impacts. However, the data strongly indicate that schools using our program are able to accomplish things that they aren’t able to without it, which is still a good thing. And, this is consistent in a wide variety of schools, under diverse conditions, in 12 states across the country so far.

But, more importantly, let’s get back to the research: I hear from schools all the time where the administration says it can’t implement social skills education because they have to spend all the time they have on academics. Maybe they haven’t met their AYP or they are really pushing to increase academic achievement.  So, they think “we don’t have the ‘luxury’ of adding anything more to the curriculum.”

It’s a classic assumption that we’re talking about “academics OR social skills.” However, the Loyola research shows, once again, that it should be “academics AND social skills.” When done properly, an effective social skills program not only builds critical lifeskills and develops character but it boosts academic achievement at the same time.

I had one reader comment on the study, saying that it wasn’t the social skills education that made the difference.  It was because the kids cooperated and that minimized disruptions. Yes, exactly…BUT — and that’s the big “but” — we have to teach kids these days how to cooperate, how to pay attention, what is expected of them and, more importantly,  why.  The reader seemed to think it was all about “discipline,” but how can you impose discipline from the outside if they kids don’t have self-discipline on the inside?

For schools that haven’t been able to justify a social skills program because it appeared to “detract” from their academic teaching, this should be an important wake-up call. We can accomplish things with a good social skills program that we are unable to do through academic teaching alone.

But the next challenge will be money, of course.  Last week, I testified before Washington State’s House Education Committee on HB 1004, a bill that seeks to make social-emotional a mandate in Washington State. As I testified, we all know about the benefits of SEL in schools, but mandating such education will not overcome the two biggest objections schools have – that of time and of money.  The “time” argument may have been mitigated somewhat by the Loyola study, but the reality exists that schools still don’t know how to pay for it (never mind that effective SEL education is self-funding…I’ve written a report that shows exactly how — email me through the website and I’ll share it with you), but schools will continue to resist these kinds of programs if they feel they can’t pay for it.

That’s one of the reasons I committed to donating up to 1,000 SocialSmarts programs in schools across the country.  We know it helps everyone in the school system — the students, the teachers, the staff, the families — and there’s no reason why ANY school that wants it shouldn’t be able to benefit.  If you are interested in applying for the donated program, email us here.

And, let’s see how much your test scores can improve by implementing a “non-academic” program.  I’ll even offer a challenge: the school that increases test scores the  most will receive a SocialSmarts license for life!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 2:22 pm

    I think that your work is vital to the new educational environment and hope that it registers on the radar of both districts and states. I would also add that social skills could do a lot to restore boys access to education as they have been cast aside in the name of “discipline.” Keep up the great work!
    Warm Regards,
    Dr. Berger


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