When Anderson Cooper’s mother, the designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, reached her 91st birthday, they began a correspondence, breaking a wall of silence between them. This 2016 conversation covered life in the spotlight, suicide, money, and grieving for a parent and a child. Vanderbilt Died in June at age 95.
This year some of the largest school districts in California will begin testing students on these and other so-called social-emotional skills – and incorporate the results into school assessments. Educators around the country are paying close attention. A recent update to federal law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in evaluating school performance. And they are looking to these districts as a potential model. But even advocates of teaching these skills warn the tests are unreliable, and the skills themselves need further definition.
- Evie Blad Staff writer, Education Week
- Sara Bartolino Krachman Co-founder and executive director, Transforming Education
- David Yeager Professor of psychology, University of Texas at Austin
- Courtney Smith Principal, Boston Collegiate Charter School
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Critics slam No Child Left Behind for its emphasis on standardized tests. A recent update to federal education law tries to address that. It requires states to come up with a non academic measure to judge school quality. A group of school districts in California is proposing a model for how to do just that. This spring, they'll assess students on their development of skills like grit and self-control.
MS. DIANE REHMBut even the strongest supporters of teaching these types of social emotional skills have criticized the approach. And here to discuss this, Evie Blad of Education Weekly and David Yeager of the University of Texas. Joining us from a studio at WGBH in Boston, Courtney Smith of Boston Collegiate Charter School and Sara Bartolino Krachman of Transforming Education. Throughout the hour, we will invite your comments, questions. Join us on 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for being with us.
MS. EVIE BLADThank you.
MR. DAVID YEAGERThank you very much.
MS. COURTNEY SMITHGood morning.
MS. SARA BARTOLINO KRACHMANThank you for having us.
REHMGood to see you all. Evie, I'll start with you. Give us some background on why the testing of social skills got incorporated into the testing, overall, of children.
BLADYeah. Well, in recent years, more and more schools have started intentional efforts to nurture social emotional or non cognitive skills in students and those are things like empathy, learning through failure, forming healthy relationships and some of that was due to, you know, snowballing amounts of research about the value of these skills. And some of it was kind of in response to what some saw as over-testing in the area of No Child Left Behind.
BLADWell, recently, Congress replace No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is a new federal education law and that law does not mandate that schools test students for these skills, but it does ask states to include one non academic indicator or one other indicator in the accountability systems that they use to measure whether a school is doing a good job. That could be a measure of school climate. It could be a measure of safety, access to advanced coursework or something else.
BLADAnd a lot of folks who are really enthusiastic about these skills have said, why not this? But some of the same researchers who popularized them have said, we've got some real concerns about that.
REHMSo what is California doing?
BLADWell, California got a waiver under No Child Left Behind before the law was replaced. Actually, a group of large districts in California that teach about a million students. And under that waiver, they created this really broad accountability system that includes things like suspension rates, the rate at which students who are learning English from other countries are reclassified as fully proficient. And a part of it is also, about 40 percent of that, is measures of school climate, how supposed students feel at school, suspension rates and also measures of their skills.
BLADAnd this is what's getting a lot of attention right now. Can we ask a student, can we use surveys of students to determine if they're proficient at things like self-efficacy and that's a big question.
REHMOr grit or self-reliance.
REHMHow in the world do you measure that?
BLADWell, and it's important to note that the California -- the core districts don't actually measure what they would call grit, but they do measure perseverance. They developed a survey of students over several phases of piloting and in one pilot, it went out to hundreds of thousands of students refining questions that they felt could get at the skills that they're trying to nurture in students.
REHMHow old are these kids?
BLADI believe that the pilots were in middle school, although I'm sure...
BLADI'm not sure I'm correct on that.
REHMOkay. And Sara, I know you're working with the core schools to develop these assessments. Tell us about these skills that they're teaching.
KRACHMANSure. So the core districts joined together a few years ago to really create a new type of accountability system, one that aims to see students as whole people, rather than just standardized test scores so that's what Evie was eluding to there. And the system is looking at both academic outcomes like reading and math skills and also at students' social emotional skills and measures of school culture and climate. So in addition to using this more holistic set of measures, core has done some really innovative work to rethink what accountability means.
KRACHMANSo their system is designed by the superintendents themselves to offer supports that help schools build their capacity to serve students and not to dole out punishments. So as part of the system, the districts have chosen to incorporate survey-based measures of four particular social emotional skills, which will account for eight percent of the total school level index. And if a school performs poorly on that overall index, which includes academics, social emotional skills and school culture and climate, then that school's paired with a higher performing school that offers mentorship and guidance.
REHMGive me a sense of exactly how these assessments are done.
KRACHMANSure. So the assessments were curated based on work that researchers had done around the country. So, for example, one of the skills that is assessed is self management, which is the ability to regulate your behavior, focus your attention, delay gratification, work towards goals and we're really using students' self report surveys and teacher reports on students to assess these skills. So for self management, for example, students are asked to respond to questions like, did you come to class prepared?
KRACHMANDid you work -- did you get your work done right away or were you able to pay attention even when there were distractions? And students are providing self-ratings on those skills. Those are primarily what roll up into that eight percent of the index that I mentioned. Some of the districts have also chosen to use teacher ratings of student skills as a compliment to those student self-ratings as well.
REHMSara Bartolino Krachman and she is co-founder and executive director of Transforming Education. That's nonprofit that supports schools in developing and assessing students' social emotional skills. David, I gather you and Angela Duckworth, the woman most associated with popularizing the term "grit," have written a paper against all of this that's happening. Tell us your thoughts.
YEAGERYeah, thanks. You know, as scientists, our primary goal is to understand what leads people to develop in productive ways. And everyone's right that the sciences really converge, that when young people have the skills for, you know, dealing with their emotions, delaying gratification, taking on challenges, then they can succeed. And a concern then is when you move from identifying skills that clearly matter to assuming that we can measure it reliably at the level of a school and then there's the next step, which is that the teachers in that school know what to do differently and then change the climate in some way in a way that allows students to improve.
YEAGERAnd it's that latter part that isn't clear at all. So what we wrote about in our paper is that it seems that it's just too early for between school judgments of these types of skills, but there's a lot that we can do right away and we can get better at developing these skills right away as well. For instance, we can allow teachers to look at their data from day to day and we can give them other types of measures and those teachers can then improve.
REHMDavid Yeager is professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. And to you, Courtney Smith, you're a principal at Boston Collegiate Charter School. I know that your school worked with transforming education in the past. You're no longer affiliated with them, but you continue to test schools and students on non cognitive skills. Tell us why.
SMITHSure. Well, mostly because we felt like we had a good handle on the academic piece, but we realized, you know, particularly in a push to focus more on the whole child that there's this huge piece of every kid that we weren't really getting at in meaningful and sufficient ways. And so we really started to think, like, how, in the situation that we have, which is we have 50-minute classes, you know. Kids are kind of going from one class to the next and there isn't a ton of downtime. How can teachers really deeply get to know the students beyond just those one-on-one conversations, you know, during homeroom or, you know, when there is a moment in class to do that to best push them forward so that they can be academically successful?
SMITHAnd so I did a little bit of research over, you know, the past couple of years thinking about, you know, how to go about this and decided that, you know, we found an assessment that worked, what we thought would work. And we kind of partnered with PARE this year to kind of check that out and see how that would go.
REHMBut how would the teachers actually collect data to be assessed?
SMITHThat's a great question. So it's actually just a -- what we use currently is just a self reporting survey that the students fill out.
REHMOh, I see.
SMITHSo the teachers are not the ones collecting it.
REHMAll right. We've got to take a short break here. When we come back, I can assure you, we've got many, many comments. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, send an email or a tweet. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about some new social skills that the California school system is testing, and lots of schools around the country are watching what's going on in California to see whether they, too, might adopt such a skill testing. Here in the studio, Evie Blad, staff writer at Education Week, David Yeager, professor of psychology at the University of Austin, Texas, and on the line with us, Courtney Smith principal at Boston Collegiate Charter School and Sara Bartolino Krachman, co-founder, executive director of Transforming Education. That's a nonprofit that supports schools in developing and assessing students social-emotional skills.
REHMAnd Courtney, just before the break, we were talking about the kind of data that is collected. What do you then do with that data?
SMITHYeah, so we found it really helpful because we have a system set up at the school where we meet with our student support team every couple of weeks to just kind of touch base about either individual students or cohorts of students that maybe aren't meeting the success that we'd like to see them make. So we might use this data to help action plan a next step for a student. And so if we're trying to figure out interventions that could take place or outside groups that they could get set up with, you know, we look to this data to help guide that discussion first.
REHMOkay, so give me an example. You focused just hypothetically on a student who is not exhibiting self-reliance. What happens?
SMITHSo yeah, so we might bring a couple teachers around the table along with the school counselor, the dean of students, and we'd first start by talking about what it is that we are seeing in the classrooms. I think that's obviously incredibly valuable because the teachers are the ones working with the kids day in and day out, and they see them the most. Once we do that, we pull up the data and compare what teachers are seeing with what the data shows. I think that's helpful because obviously, you know, the teachers bring their own bias to the table in terms of what they see.
REHMExactly, exactly, well, and that's what I want to better understand. How is it that the teacher makes this assessment that the child is not self-reliant?
SMITHSure. I think they don't necessarily say those words. They might say that the student is not independent, or, you know, we're seeing something from a student, and it's not where the other students are developmentally, and so it's a concern because they're not on the same page. And so I think for me as a principal of the school, what I find incredibly helpful with this data is that, you know, the data is something that came from the students. It was from a self-reporting survey, and so their perception is their reality.
SMITHAnd so being able to norm definitions with my staff about what it is that they feel about themselves versus the staff perception of students, it just opens up a dialogue. And so, you know, as a school this is our first year doing it, and so we're not really doing much more, other than having the dialogue about it and figuring out are there small things we can be doing for those individual students.
REHMAll right, David Yeager, you were shaking your head vigorously.
YEAGERWell, it's -- using self-reports to identify an individual student is very tricky. We can't even diagnose depression with a very lengthy self-report scale where we're only measuring that at the level of the individual. We supplement it with a clinical interview. And when you're talking about something like depression, kids are very good reporters at whether they feel sad all the time, and they have no incentive to lie about those things.
YEAGERWhen you're talking about self-management, whether they meet their goals, it turns out that the more training people get on meeting the goals, the more they become aware of all the times that they didn't meet their goals. And so actual training often drives down self-reports, where people become -- as they become more expert, they become more critical. Like if you think you're a good driver because you never got in a car wreck, and then you ride with someone who has a queasy stomach, and you're all of a sudden aware of all the ways that you're kind of a goofy driver, then you say, wait a second, maybe I'm not such a good driver.
YEAGERYou might work on that, you might improve it. So just using self-reports, even changes in self-reports, could unintentionally lead you to think that a kid who's actually getting better is actually getting worse. And now you aggregate that to the level of the teacher, the teachers who do the best would have the lowest scores, and that is what we call reference bias, and it's a serious measurement problem.
REHMSara, I know you wanted to jump in.
KRACHMANI would love to, thanks. So we've worked directly with research partners at Harvard, including Professor Marty West, who wrote one of the seminal papers on this topic that David's describing. And so Marty and our research partners, they really understand this issue of research -- excuse me, of reference bias at a deep level. And the Harvard team specifically analyzed the data that we collected from the pilot and field test with the core districts to look for evidence of reference bias, and they didn't find any.
KRACHMANSo that's not conclusive, we'll continue to explore this over time, but the early evidence suggests that it may not be a significant issue in the data we've collected so far.
REHMAnd go ahead.
YEAGERAnd that's -- I just want to fill it out. This is an analysis that's been posted on a website, and in that analysis, they're comparing students in schools where they haven't yet been working on it. So it's kind of -- it would be like comparing doctors based on how healthy patients said they were when they came in. You might have the case where the doctors with the -- the best doctors have the sickest patients.
REHMEvie, I know you wanted to comment.
BLADI think some of the concern about attaching this to high-stakes accountability is that even if you're getting valid and honest answers now, what's going to happen when teachers recognize that there are stakes for their schools attached to this. Are our concerns about teaching to the test that we had under No Child Left Behind going to be replaced with teaching to the survey? Are teachers going to be encouraging kids, this is what you need to say to sound like you have these social skills?
BLADOn the other hand, states get to decide what kind of stakes they want to attach to these things. The core districts in California didn't attach heavy sanctions for schools that don't measure up on this. What they did is they said we want you to partner with another school and talk about what's working and talk about what's not. That's a lot different than saying you need to fire all of your teachers.
REHMSo are you talking about behavioral inclinations within the classroom that the teacher is spotting as healthy, at level, not at level? I mean, I -- I just think there are so many different kinds of behaviors among young people, especially in middle school, that to try to grade them or to assess them on some measurable scale would be pretty tough.
BLADYeah, and, you know, the proponents of social-emotional learning are -- a lot of them, it's important to recognize, have very different views about the measurement part of it. And the idea of social-emotional learning is that schools become more supportive places, that they develop interventions that are developmentally sensitive. So with the age a child is, with what we can expect from them, how do we get them to internalize these ideas and apply them on their own?
BLADAnd so there are some ways of measuring that that some researchers who have trouble with high-stakes accountability don't find as problematic, and those are the kinds of measure that you would use for improving your programs, improving your school. That's different. That's a school saying we want to do social-emotional learning, we want to assess ourselves, but researchers like David would see a difference, I would assume, between that and a school that hasn't adopted a social-emotional approach at all being assessed by a state on something that it might not have bought into already.
REHMAll right, let me just read you all some of the Facebook and website comments we had even before the program began. From Laura, this is ridiculous. It's great to incorporate soft skills into the school day, please do. But to test and measure these skills, not okay. Will they be graded on their soft skills? Here's a comment from Shirley. This is so unfair. I thought the days of tagging children with labels that follow them through high school graduation was over. Poor children, homeless children, children from dysfunctional families will rate the lowest. Don't poor and minority children have enough negative feedback to overcome without being further pigeonholed?
REHMHere's a website comment. Maybe I'm missing something, but how does one teach resilience? And isn't self-control something parents are supposed to teach? And finally, a website comment, self-control and resilience are not vocations to be taught in school. It's like bestowing self-esteem. Self-control should be demanded, and tough luck if you're too fragile to not be resilient. Sara?
KRACHMANSure. There are a number of concerns all rolled up in there. So I'll just, I'll pick one or two to start with, and I'm sure my colleagues here have other thoughts.
KRACHMANBut, you know, I really think this isn't about labeling students or blaming students or even asking students to overcome adversity alone. I think for educators to understand what's going on in students' lives and to gather more information on how so far those students have developed social-emotional skills, that can really help support students more effectively. So in my mind this isn't at all about labeling. It's about giving educators the information they need to help students more effectively.
SMITHYeah, I would say, too, I think the other thing it sort of brings up, and Evie sort of hinted at this before, is what role assessment plays in all of this, and I think assessment right now obviously is a bit of a dirty word in education, and, you know, everyone is obviously done with over-testing of kids. But I think assessment at its core is simply just a way to know more about a student. And so any Ed, you know, 101 class in undergrad will let you know that you plan backwards from assessments, and I kind of see this similarly. It's just a dipstick to find out how kids are social-emotionally, which we don't actually have any measure for until now.
YEAGERYeah, I think what the comments say to me is that people desperately want their children to go to schools where they feel welcomed, where kids are learning how to be creative, to solve novel problems, and the developmental psychological research that we do finds that kids learn those in schools whether we try to or not. It may be the case that parents should be primary emphasizers of this, but kids are amazing learners of really subtle ways that systems work.
YEAGERAnd they learn about reward and punishment implicitly all the time. And so the idea that we are not going to help teachers become better at that is a reason -- is a worry people have and a reason why people want schools to be intentional about it. To go the next step, and say it matters, kids definitely learn it at school, want it or not, and therefore we need to use measures of these qualities from self-reports is I think where the research community says we're not ready, and it's not clear to us that you need to measure what are inputs to good life outcomes. We could be measuring the outputs.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Evie, would you like to add?
BLADYeah, I think it's important to note that, you know, in the last 15 years, schools -- a lot of schools have become very sophisticated about how they use data. We've been in an assessment-based accountability era, and that's a hard switch to shut off. And also it's not unlikely that some schools would say we've figured out ways to support our programs to really get granular and look at, you know, are we -- are students of a certain ethnicity failing standardized tests at higher rates than other students, these sorts of things.
BLADWhy wouldn't we want to apply that same strategy to other programs that schools do? So it's not hard to imagine why schools would want to assess these things. I would say, putting aside the issue of measurement for accountability, there are some schools that have voluntarily decided to assess these things. I've got a story coming out next week about the Washoe County School District in Reno, which rather than assess -- it's not a student-level thing, but they develop surveys with their students, asking them what are the social things that you encounter during a school day that are most difficult for you.
BLADThey use this data not at a student level...
REHMWell give me -- give me the kinds of answers that you would get.
BLADSo some of the things are sitting with another student at the lunch table who I don't know, knowing what another classmate is thinking based on reading their facial expressions, getting along with someone even though I disagree with them. So they have students take these surveys, and they're not using them to say you failed social-emotional learning. They're using them at the school level to say, oh, this stands out, this is one thing that a lot of our students found was difficult.
BLADAnd that informs their efforts, that informs how teachers who are already working with students on these skills move forward.
REHMBut David, how much consensus is there that these kinds of skills should be examined, much less taught, in schools?
YEAGERThere's tremendous consensus. The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning, CASEL, did a survey of teachers, and what teachers say is I got into teaching because I care about my students' feelings, I want my students to be happy, and I was once a very mediocre middle-school teacher, and I felt the same way. I wanted my students to be ready for the next phase in life. People want to help their kids be happier, not just know how to fill in bubbles on tests.
YEAGERBut they also don't -- they haven't yet gotten from us, our research community, good advice about how to do it. And we researchers, I think here's my blunt assessment of the state of the evidence. We can design a treatment to give directly to a student, and that can train some kinds of skills, and we can show benefits months or years later, in some cases decades.
YEAGERWe know almost nothing, we're just beginning to start, to learn how to train teachers to then be the middle person and train the students.
REHMSo are you saying that the California experiment is premature?
YEAGERI'm saying that they -- the portion of it that requires teachers to do something that research has not yet told them even how to do, we don't even know how to do, is premature, but they are -- where they're truly amazing in leading is actually something we haven't talked about, which is they ask schools to look at their differences in discipline disparities, their differences in absences. And is your school a school where black students are punished more than white students?
YEAGERAnd there's no reference bias problem there, and that makes up a huge part of my understanding, and we could be focusing on those behavioral things, and those are outputs of a warm classroom climate that they could be working on.
REHMDavid Yeager, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. When we come back, we'll open the phones, we'll read more of your emails, your comments. I look forward to being with you.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the idea of helping young children learn emotional skills like self-reliance, like fortitude, like perseverance. And Evie, it strikes me that these skills need to be presented or looked at or understood at a much earlier age than middle school.
BLADThat's right, and school systems that have adopted social-emotional learning approaches start in kindergarten. There are even pre-K programs that are teaching kids things like mindfulness and how to have a moment, a quiet moment where they reflect on their thoughts. And the thing is, it's not just about individual instruction. It's about systemic changes for a lot of these schools.
BLADThere's a group of eight urban districts that are piloting social-emotional interventions and allowing researchers to study what they're doing. Now they all have various perspectives on measurements. Two of them are part of the core districts in California. The other six have their own ideas about what measurements should look like. But these schools aren't just telling teachers, hey, you're responsible for making sure these kids have these character skills.
BLADThey're changing the way they discipline kids. Instead of suspending them as much, they're working on resolving problems in the classroom by talking through them. They're equipping young children with tools and strategies for solving conflicts on their own. And they're working with adults to help them understand how to form supportive relationships with children. So it's not just a drilling character skills into kids. It's sort of a systemic thing for these schools.
REHMHere's an interesting email from Victoria. She says, might have we expected to see different in adults today if the focus on social-emotional skills had been implemented a decade ago? David?
YEAGERYeah, there's actually some amazing new research on this. Ken Dodge out of Duke did a study where they worked directly on kids' social and emotional skills about K to four, and what they worked with was really at-risk kids, where they helped them see that if someone does something on accident, they didn't do it because they were out to get you, called the hostile attribution bias.
YEAGERThey just came out with a study of those kids, who are 25. And there's, like, a 10- to 15-percentage-point reduction in crime, psychopathology, all kinds of things that society pays for real -- in a really expensive way through incarceration, through a lifetime of a person not having a job. So the return on investment of even a tiny bit of early childhood social and emotional learning is among the best things that you could do.
YEAGERAnd I think that this is the kind of tough part for the researchers. The evidence is pretty unambiguous that especially when you're talking about helping people who might have faced early disadvantages do well later in life, you can reduce 20 to 40 percent of some gaps through programs.
REHMNow here for you, Sara, is a tweet from Melanie. She says, race, class, culture, stereotypes, who gets to decide what is standardized behavior or emotional social response is, the entitled?
KRACHMANAbsolutely. I mean, I think we've heard a lot of concerns about how these measures are going to play out, and to me what's really clear is that these skills matter for all students. This is not about working specifically with students of color. It's not about working specifically with students in poverty. These skills matter for everyone, students and adults for that matter. So to see some of the benefits that David is talking about later in life, if we've all been able to develop these skills in real time, I think there'll be a great impact in the long run.
REHMAll right, let's go to Latasha in Merrimac, New Hampshire. You're on the air.
LATASHAYes, ma'am, hi. Thank you for taking my call.
LATASHAI think this is a great idea. My daughter goes to a school here in Merrimac. She's current in upper elementary, fifth grade. And we -- our upper elementary schools here are called PBIS schools, which is abbreviation for -- or acronym for positive behavioral intervention and support. This program has essentially transformed my daughter. She was in state of depression with suicidal thoughts. In second grade she had violent outbursts. She was diagnosed with autism and ADHD combined.
LATASHAAnd in two years it transformed her. You don't even recognize her compared to that second-grader. She now has developed coping skills thanks to the efforts of the faculty specifically trained for emotional and behavioral issues. Their supports have given her the strategies and coping skills to deal with conflict. She's gone from being isolated and ostracized by peers to now making friends. She's able to communicate with words rather than tantrums. And even her academic performance has excelled as a result of her self-confidence, discovery in her self-confidence.
LATASHASo now rather than wanting to run away and be an animal in the woods, she's dreaming about having a farm.
REHMOh how wonderful, Latasha. I'm so glad for you. Any comment, Sara?
KRACHMANNo, we're so excited to hear about examples of students and teachers and others who are really benefiting from this work in real time. I mean, I think Evie mentioned earlier some of the examples of what's already going on in the classroom. And I think the reality is that teachers are already working with students to develop these skills every day, and there's more we need to know and learn about how to do that effectively, but more than 88 percent of teachers are telling us that their school is already implementing some type of program or practice to build students' social-emotional skills. So...
REHMAll right, and let's go to Katie in Indianapolis. You're on the air.
KATIEThank you, Diane. I'm a long-devoted listener.
KATIEYes, I am a high school educator and have most recently worked in an alternative school for at-risk children, which I might say is not a charter school, it's actually a public school. What I am not hearing is what do we do once we have the data. Actually some of these -- as a teacher, I can tell you things like self-reliance or able to solve a problem, some of this is very clear just by classroom observation. But let's say we do do the assessment. Then what?
KATIEWhen the principal talked about sitting people around -- stakeholders around at the table, they did not mention parents. And one of my question is that as an educator, I find myself more in the world of social worker with this cohort of students who I've been working with, the at-risk, who probably do have the greatest social-emotional problems, given the level of dysfunction that they come from. And schools don't have the resources. In other words, is it -- I'm not a counselor. I'm not a trained social worker.
KATIESo my question is, what do you -- what supports are in place? I was surprised to think that what they do is they mentor school to school. Increasingly teachers are being asked to (unintelligible) which they're not trained and for which, you know, there's a lot of parental background that's lacking.
REHMSure, sure, Courtney Smith?
SMITHSure, so yeah, sometimes we do have families around the table, if they can make it. We meet during the school day, so not everyone can be a part of those conversations, but we definitely loop them in that those conversations were had about their child so that they can be aware of the interventions we're trying at school so that they can support that work at home.
SMITHI think one of the things we found successful this year through -- you know, the organization we partnered with is PEAR, which is affiliation with McClean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. And what they provide are actually some intervention groups that we can try out with the kids. So for example, you know, once we give that assessment, if we see we have a large number of students who are high and active in engagement but have low emotion control, there is this great program called Ready, Set, Action that basically teaches kids how to work using their bodies together in teamwork, where they can pause and reflect on what they've learned, as well.
REHMBut she was also saying that as a high school educator, she is asked more and more to be a social worker, Evie.
BLADWell, and she's teaching at an alternative high school, which would put even more pressure on these areas for her. You know, these are students who might not have succeeded at other traditional high schools, and so that's a heavy lift for any teacher. I think, you know, if you step back into a more traditional classroom in younger years, a lot of teachers would tell you that they're dealing with these issues anyway, whether they've being intentional about it or not. And so this just gives them strategies and ways of helping children be more intentional and thoughtful about these processes.
BLADA teacher in an alternative high school, who's dealing with probably some real severe emotional issues with some of her students and some severe needs, I mean, then you're getting into the area where you might need mental health supports and things that go beyond traditional social-emotional learning.
REHMAll right, let's take a caller in Indianapolis. Joyce, you're on the air.
JOYCEHello. Thank you. I'm a longtime listener, Diane. I love your show.
REHMThanks. Thank you.
JOYCEI'm -- Katie and I did not conspire here, even though we're both from Indianapolis, but I'm following up really on what she said, which was teachers are -- first I should say I'm a social worker, okay. Teachers are asked to do so much more than really is humanly possible, I think, to do a great job when they're trained to educate. And I do not understand or agree with, you know, trying to put this on them. That is not their profession. They're trained to educate, and in order to educate, you have to have the other half, which is a recipient who is able to cope with the world.
JOYCESo I'm thinking, where are the social workers? Where are the human service -- I know where they are, they're too expensive. And there's this idea, I think, that social workers are really only dealing with people with severe mental illness, and that is not the case. Social workers are trained to deal with people in their lives and the interaction between yourself and your -- the world you live in.
REHMDavid, do you want to comment?
YEAGERYeah, so the same survey we've been talking about, teachers were asked what's most frustrating about your job. And the number one thing they say is student misbehavior or disengagement. When, again as a former teacher, you have a perfect lesson, and students are just not with you, nothing is more frustrating. So part of educating kids is creating a climate and an environment where they're thrilled to learn, where they're ready, and they're prepared to learn.
YEAGERAnd so working on social and emotional climate is absolutely something that teachers are expected to do that also that they want to do because it allows them to do more of the kind of classroom climate and the kind of instruction that they're thrilled to do.
REHMCourtney, you've been assessing students' social-emotional skills for years now. What are some of the differences that you've seen?
SMITHYeah, this is the first year we've really done much with that data. We've given, you know, assessments in years past, but this is the first year we've done much. I would say, you know, I haven't seen huge differences. I -- you know, in talking with Sara prior to the show starting, you know, some of the things I really appreciate about the data is you're -- you know who the students are who are on fire. And they sort of present themselves pretty early on, and you know that they need support.
SMITHBut there are a ton of kids just below that radar, who might otherwise get overlooked. And I'll give an example. We had one boy, you know, pretty high-achieving academically but a very quiet student. And the data came back really alarming for him. His levels of optimism were incredibly low. He self-identified that his trust was low, his relationships with his peers and adults were low. And it just, you know, it made us really pause and think, like, wow, what's going on with this kid? Who is connected with him? And that's not something that we have to curriculum for.
SMITHLike, you don't -- teachers don't have to be trained clinicians for you to say, hey, can you pull him and have lunch with him and just kind of get to know him a little bit better. There are simple fixes to some of these issues.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Here's a tweet from Kathleen. Are there plans to track the impacts of the California Social Program for kids in the long term? I'm now remembering the skills I was taught, Kathleen says.
KRACHMANYeah, and it's important to note that this isn't all of California. It's a group of districts.
KRACHMANAnd they are very aware that researchers are interested in what they're doing. Even researchers who disagree with their measurement scheme I think want to see what is effects are. And they've actually opened up their survey measures so that other schools can take a look at them and have said that they are, you know, going to keep an eye on how this affects things.
REHMAll right, to Kendal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, you're on the air.
KENDALThank you so much for taking my call. I was inspired to call because I heard the previous caller talking about her positive experience with PBIS, and -- for her daughter. And I just wanted to provide an alternative point of view of PBIS. I realize that there is a lot of research behind it, showing, you know, positive results from it, but my kids recently switched to a public elementary school here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and they're in first, third and fifth grade, and one morning on the way to school, my fifth-grader said that he didn't really like the discipline situation at school, and I asked him why.
KENDALAnd he said he feels like the students are being bribed to behave. And he also, you know, stated that that's not why you're supposed to behave, because you're going to get rewards. But also he felt like the kids did -- do behave and are inclined to pay attention and, you know, participate in class and stand in line properly and everything, those kids often get overlooked. He said he notices the kids who have behavior problems, who have a history of behavior issues, they get all of the attention from the teachers, they get the most punches in their punch cards, they get the most stamps on their stamp card, while the kids who are naturally -- who are -- not naturally but who are inclined to behave and inclined to, you know, do what they're asked, they get overlooked in this system, and, you know, they don't...
REHMDavid, what do you think of that?
YEAGERYeah, so this is a problem with any kind of teacher-reported measure is teachers tend to re-create their grade books. We find this at almost every level. And so -- and another problem is that any program, even if it works on average, is tremendously variable. It turns into a game of telephone, where each school interprets the rules differently. And that's why what -- ultimately what the research community thinks might be wisest in terms of measurement is not measurement for was your school good or bad, but how do you measure something to get better. How do you improve?
YEAGERMaybe PBIS is okay on average, but then how does, like, every classroom use it well? Or how does every classroom get better? And this is what the Carnegie Foundation calls practical measurement or measurement to improve.
REHMIt sounds to me as though this idea has a long way to go, Evie.
BLADYeah, I mean, we're -- for a lot of the interventions, we're in a real growing phase, and I think that that's something that schools recognize.
REHMAll right, we'll have to leave it at that, Evie Blad, David Yeager, Courtney Smith, Sara Bartolino Krachman, thank you all so much for a most interesting discussion. And thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
How the remote island became one of the world's most important laboratories for understanding climate change.
Democratic presidential hopefuls take the stage for two nights of debate. Winners, losers and what we learned about the state of the race.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a writer for New York Times Magazine, has a new book called "Fleishman Is In Trouble."